'Conserve on utilities', Thwaites to schools
EDUCATION MINISTER Ronald Thwaites said a directive has been issued to school administrators to implement a conservation drive as part of efforts to reduce the high electricity bills in some schools.
Thwaites said a proposal has also been taken to Cabinet for arrangements to be made with providers of solar energy to implement these systems in schools at reduced cost.
"There is a working group which would be formed in order to advance that kind of development. It should be formed later this month," he said.
The electricity for at least four schools was disconnected earlier this year for non-payment of bills. The minister had also confirmed that more than $150 million was owed by schools at the time.
However, he told The Gleaner on Monday that a considerable amount of this money has since been paid and satisfactory arrangements have been made to pay the rest.
Both schools at the primary and secondary level are given a grant by the ministry to go towards paying utilities. The education ministry currently spends about $800 million annually for utilities.
"Some schools I know have done very well with establishing competitions for energy conservation ideas, and I am asking the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica to do an energy audit on our schools," he said.
As it relates to reducing the costs associated with water, Thwaites said the ministry will be asking for a change in rate for those schools that are not already benefiting from the National Water Commission's preferential rate structure. It would be up to school administrators to ensure that the cost of acquiring furniture is kept at a minimum.
"Furniture that used to be replaceable, say after five years, now needs to last seven or 10 years," he said.
As schools try to find ways to reduce their utility costs, principal for St Andrew High School for Girls, Sharon Reid, said that the school has entered into an agreement with a company to provide the institution with solar panels. The panels will be leased to the school initially, but eventually, the institution will have full ownership.
"We expect that, very early in the first term, those panels will be installed," said the principal who points out that the institution's electricity bill amounts to about $800,000 per month on average.