Sun | Aug 1, 2021

Need for pragmatic, holistic dialogues on electricity

Published:Friday | June 25, 2021 | 12:05 AM


I write in response to the editorial ‘Dialogue on electricity’, which is long overdue. Nearly 60 years after independence, the Government of Jamaica is now trying to catch up with remodelling and appropriate investment in this critical sector of the country’s strategic and economic infrastructure. This is commendable.

The extortionate cost of electricity borne by Jamaicans has been one of the most debilitating factors on the cost of living and a major impediment to the economy’s growth over the past five decades. For far too long it has been brushed aside as a ‘fact of life’ of living in Jamaica. However, the day of reckoning for the status quo must be nigh.

The hydrocarbon sector is under strain – a ‘sunset industry’. Pressure from green lobby is growing and the Biden administration appears to be heeding the urgent and prudent call to decarbonise.

The likely outcome is for the price of hydrocarbon to increase, and significantly, in the medium term. Countries still relying on hydrocarbons for electricity generation will be left ‘holding the baby’. Higher electricity bills await their citizens. [Just as those power users in Jamaica, who can, have already left JPS (as customers) to generate their own electricity (via solar or even LPG), leaving others ‘holding that baby’ – paying even more in their electricity bills].

Finally, let’s not focus on building renewable energy systems solely for the noble cause of ‘saving planet earth’ (which we must do). Notable renewable energy projects in Jamaica (Paradise Park, etc) have not led to lower electricity prices to anyone I know of, and yet they should have. The quasi-monopolistic electricity local market structure has ensured that.

The key and primary policy goal of the Government must be to provide the citizens and companies of Jamaica with affordably priced electricity which forms the basis of our living standards. What is a fair and sustainable price? A clue will be in the predicted future of electricity generation models – if Jamaica wishes to be ‘globally competitive’.

This model is based on almost entirely renewable energy sources (including decentralised parts) and a base price of five to nine US cents per kWh is predicted. Take a look at your last JPS bill for current cost per kWh, and go figure.

Dialogue will be a useful start but much more – visioning, leadership and action – will be required for the radical transformation of this sector... and urgently.