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EDITORIAL - Breaking energy-price stranglehold

Published:Saturday | May 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The success story of the St Andrew householder who has dramatically slashed her electricity bill from $30,000 to under $500 must have given food for thought to the scores of Jamaicans who report that they are drowning in a sea of high electricity bills.

Electricity is one of the largest monthly bills faced by householders and businesses alike, and in many cases, it is the main factor that renders businesses uncompetitive. As was demonstrated in the story in Thursday's edition of The Gleaner, the initial expense of installing solar panels is enormous. However, the return on investment is quickly realised through the savings achieved.

Even as Jamaican consumers, both residential and commercial, struggle with soaring electricity bills, the impact of solar use on a country that enjoys nearly all-year-round sunshine has been negligible, and so the majority of Jamaicans continue to be held at the mercy of that monopoly, which is the Jamaica Public Service Company.

Even further behind is the idea of generating electricity via wind power. This could be partly attributed to the absence of an aggressive awareness programme to assist individuals in making that investment.

How is the Government assisting the population to reduce energy? Minister of Energy Phillip Paulwell fervently believes that there is a company somewhere out there that will be able to significantly reduce the cost of electricity to Jamaica, while, hopefully, lowering its carbon emissions by 2016. The first attempt to select such a company was fraught with high-level bungling, and so we now await the restart of the bidding process under the management of a new enterprise team.

SMALL STEPS CRUCIAL

In the meantime, however, there is no energy-efficiency programme in place that would encourage businesses, administrations of public buildings such as hospitals and schools, and regular householders to invest in renewable-energy sources. There are scores of gadgets out there that can yield incremental gains, but not much is being said about their use and effectiveness. Even a decision about painting a building can add or lower electricity costs. It is a known fact that light colours reflect light and absorb heat, while the opposite is true for dark colours.

We recall that government ministries and agencies were charged with achieving sizable cuts in their electricity usage by seeking to achieve energy-efficient goals through stringent power-saving measures. The country has not heard any progress reports on this programme, which would lead us to believe that it has not achieved its laudable objectives.

The country needs a robust energy-efficient programme to support householders and commercial customers as we march into the hot summer days. For many householders, including pensioners, keeping the lights on and running air conditioning will be a major challenge this year.

So while the country waits to hear how Dr Vin Lawrence's enterprise team will convert the energy-saving power plant fiasco to success, perhaps Mr Paulwell and the OUR could embark on a public education programme to help Jamaicans understand how they can save electricity through making critical adjustments and sensible choices in their energy use.

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