Mon | Dec 6, 2021

We need a bold vision for energy – Paulwell

Published:Friday | April 23, 2021 | 12:19 AM

Electricity is becoming too expensive for residential and commercial customers, Phillip Paulwell, the opposition spokesman on energy, has charged, pressing the Andrew Holness administration to come with a bold vision for the sector.

Paulwell said people are confused because of the increases in their electricity despite promises that it would go down due to massive investments in the sector.

“In 2012, the electricity price was 36 cents per kilowatt-hour. By the time we left office in 2016, it fell to 22.4 cents. Yet after five years, it is back to 28.38 cents, an increase of 26 per cent and nearly 6 cents more than where we left it,” Paulwell pointed out during his contribution to the sectoral debate in Parliament on Wednesday.

“This is quite confusing to the public who see the world price of oil plummeting over the period and our own success in adding new capacity of generating electricity using LNG also being increased. We have brought in so [many] renewables, we have put in over 300 megawatts of LNG capacity and people are wondering why we see the electricity bills going further,” Paulwell further stated.

Since 2016, non-fuel charges have increased from US13 cents to 15 cents and fuel charges from 9.4 cents to 13.35 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“These are not good numbers as electricity is once again becoming too expensive for domestic and for our commercial users, and it is time to allow the people to win where electricity is concerned,” Paulwell said.

He noted that the country was not in a good position, having not requested a proposal for a single megawatt of electricity in the past five years.

The energy spokesperson said while there has been progress in addressing electricity-generation issues, lingering issues in the distribution of electricity is hurting the sector.

For instance, Paulwell said the Office of Utilities Regulation has told him that 17.5 per cent of electricity bills customers pay comprise electricity theft.

The Jamaica Public Service revealed that power theft for all of 2019 was billed at US$178 million.

Riverton, an inner-city community in St Andrew, had more than 90 per cent of its households stealing electricity, drawing about US$2.2 million illegally per year.

JPS reported losses in the sum of US$61 million for the 12-month period ending December 2020 in Kingston and St Andrew North alone for 2020.

Paulwell is therefore proposing that solar technology be used to remove approximately 200,000 illegal connections to the grid to drive down the cost for paying customers.

“We can over a five-year period – it will cost you $20 billion – but you can get all of those 200,000 people from the grid and free up the cost so that the legitimate users will be able to see a reduction by 17.5 per cent,” the opposition spokesman pitched.

By Paulwell’s figures, it would mean the Government will have to invest $5 billion per year in procuring solar technology to remove non-paying users.

“The stealing of electricity is not only a JPS problem but a national one. One that requires the active involvement of the Government to solve it,” Paulwell said.