EDITORIAL - Need for transparency

Published: Wednesday | December 11, 2013 Comments 0

We suspect that this newspaper's cajoling was instrumental in having Albert Gordon, the still relatively new executive director of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), to finally break his silence about his mission and vision for the agency.

Noticeably, Mr Gordon chose to do this by way of press advertisements, rather than direct engagement with those whose job it is to question and probe and to present their findings to the public.

That, of course, is Mr Gordon's right. His approach may yet evolve.

For now, though, what Mr Gordon has proffered is in need of more and better particulars, if the OUR, after its handling of recent bids for new electricity-generating capacity, is to patch up its reputation and rekindle the faith of Jamaicans in it as an agency that protects their interests.

For instance, the director general says that the OUR is laying the foundation to have "a more customer-centric" approach, but is short on specifics on how this will manifest itself. He speaks in impenetrable generalities.

We look forward to greater clarity on this issue.

But far more urgent is for Mr Gordon and the OUR to give the public specific and detailed information on the power purchase agreement (PPA) that has been concluded between Energy World International, the company that has the green light to build a 360-megawatt, gas-fired power plant, and the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), which has a monopoly on the transmission and distribution of electricity.

Jamaicans now pay in the region of US$0.42 per kilowatt-hour of electricity, a rate that is among the highest in this region, which helps to make Jamaican firms, and the economy generally, uncompetitive.

When the transition to gas-fired power plants was first mooted, it was argued that the use of this fuel to generate over half of peak electricity demand, with new efficient plants, would lower rates by upwards of one-third.

There have been recent whispers, but no confirmation, that savings at this level will not be realised. The gains, it has been suggested, will be substantially less.

There can be no independent calculation of the likely future cost of electricity to consumers in the absence of the price in that PPA. The earlier it is available to consumers, the quicker they, including businesses, can plan their strategies.

Mr Gordon's press advertisement, however, does not explicitly promise public disclosure of the details of the PPA, saying only that its ratification by JPS directors will pave the way "for the start of the project".

We urge transparency on this matter. Now!

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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