EDITORIAL - Cut the ..., Mr Paulwell
We are sick and tired of Mr Phillip Paulwell's approach to energy policy formulation that appears to us to be an amalgam of stalking horses, three-card tricksters, and loquacious bravado.
So, it is time for the minister to end the drawing room charade and come clean with the Jamaican people. There is far too much at stake for anything less.
We here refer to what, at a glance, seems to be a public difference between the energy and mining minister and Mr Zia Mian, the outgoing head of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), over whether the agreement for the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), the light and power provider, to build a 360-megawatt power plant will be, is, or has been rescinded.
Ask us: It's all a contrivance. It has been an open secret for weeks, especially in circles where energy matters are discussed, that JPS's successful bid for the plant would be abrogated and another route sought. The deed, the OUR has now reported, is done. Prior to that, the issue was how to announce a policy lurch on energy to the public and how breaking the contract would be achieved without inviting lawsuits from JPS.
The background to this matter is - Minister Paulwell's obfuscatory palliative notwithstanding - on Jamaica's energy crisis. We described the energy situation as such because at more than US$0.41 per kilowatt-hour, the cost of electricity in Jamaica is not only high, but destabilising to the economy. It helps to make our firms uncompetitive in the global market.
Indeed, it was this problem that the new JPS plant, to be fired by natural gas, was aimed at curing. Gas is cheaper than the expensive oil that now accounts for more than 90 per cent of Jamaica's energy.
At the time of the bidding, during the former administration, after more than a circumlocutory discourse on the energy question, the Government undertook to source liquefied natural gas (LNG) for the facility. The problem is that it could not find LNG at a price that allowed for a one-third drop in electricity prices.
The administration backed out of the undertaking to procure the fuel and gave the task to JPS. It was soon apparent that JPS was not having any better luck. In the meantime, Mr Paulwell was floating new, untried gas transportation/delivery technology to achieve this end. His effort seems to have failed.
FORK IN THE ROAD
All this seems to have played into Mr Paulwell's preference of coal as Jamaica's best, and most economic, fuel option. It was Mr Mian's preferred option, too, nearly a decade and a half ago when he first advised Jamaica on energy. Later, in line with government policy, he worked on the LNG option, but says that Jamaica missed the window. Mr Mian now says that the OUR will retender the power plant, but this time with an open fuel option.
Mr Paulwell, in 'responding' to Mr Mian's comments, says that while "we have been in discussions with the OUR", there was as yet no formal submission to take to the Cabinet. He knows, too, that JPS has made "a revised submission" on the plant. What that entails, we were not told.
These statements were being made only hours before the OUR's formal declaration that it had pulled the plugged on JPS.
So, after a zigzag run, the energy question slowed at another fork in the road. What we need is some damn honesty on the matter. We won't tolerate hazy backroom dealing on this.
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