As was highlighted by this newspaper yesterday, the amount of oil imported by Jamaica last year increased by about nine per cent to approximately 28.6 million barrels. The bill for the commodity jumped 30 per cent, to US$1.73 billion.
In any context, these numbers are substantial, but are more stark, for they come on the back of only a modest 2.5 per cent real growth in the Jamaican economy. Which, it seems to us, raises profound questions about energy efficiency in the country as well as the broader commitment of the Government to promote energy conservation.
These are matters about which officials have talked a lot over a long time, without getting much done. For those who would be unkind, the accusation is that Jamaica has largely spouted hot affair on this matter of energy efficiency.
Like with most other economies, the matter of how to squeeze more value out of every barrel of oil consumed has been on Jamaica's agenda since the oil shock ignited by the Yom Kippur war of 1973. With oil satisfying over 90 per cent of Jamaica's energy needs and the island importing all of what it consumed, it made obvious sense to moderate both energy and oil use. It also made sense for Jamaica to see and preferably renewable, sources of energy.
These facts became obvious again with the second oil shock of the 1980s and at sporadic intervals since then, such as during the first Gulf War, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; and at the start of the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, while we have formulated a range of energy policies, none have been implemented with any consistency so as to deliver the desired effect. We seem to grow bored with the effort every time there is a moderation in the oil markets or if an apparent benefactor appears over the horizon, as is currently the case with President Chvez and his PetroCaribe energy initiative.
So since the first oil shock, economic output in Jamaica for every barrel of oil consumed has improved, on a whole, by no more than 12 per cent. But what is more significant is that almost all the gains have been achieved in the bauxite/alumina sector where the efficiency gain is nearly a third.
By contrast, over the same period, in the developed world efficiency gains, as measured by economic output for oil consumed, has grown at the top end by upwards of 40 per cent and in many instances by over a quarter. Some of these gains, of course, have come from technological enhancements in industries, which firms here may say they cannot afford. That, of course, would not be the whole truth.
A major part of the problem has been a lack of consistent focus on the issues by the public and private sectors and therefore a lack of coherent response. There are small signs of a shift recently, but largely we appear to place the solution on a wish and a hope - that we might find oil.
In the meantime, failure to deal seriously with this issue burns big holes in the pockets of consumers and the national coffers.
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