The lights continue to go out: Time to privatize
Reliable electrical service and lower electrical bills are the stuff of Bahamian dreams.
After another insufferable week of load-shedding that deprived neighborhoods around New Providence of electrical services for alternating periods of two hours or more every day, residents abandoned their homes on Sunday for the reprieve of cooled motor vehicles or the beach. This past Sunday’s erratic electrical supply was particularly vexing.
The financial costs to businesses and home-owners have not been quantified but we believe them to be huge.
Still there appears to be no immediate reprieve in sight. As usual, Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) apologized after the event and promised to do better. Bahamians long ago grew tired of the electricity supplier’s excuses for unreliable supply while seeking to justify high electricity bills.
Claims that the company’s generators have outlived their useful life and must be replaced, much like the assertions about dramatic increases in the demand for electrical power in the summer months, ring hollow. Bahamians are keenly aware of the exorbitant sums of monies expended over the past several decades to repair and replace generating capacity at BEC/BPL plants around the country and most especially in New Providence.
What is sadly evident nowadays is that BPL, whose predecessor corporation, BEC, enjoyed investor quality ratings in the financial markets in the 1990s, is today more reliant on government support than is Bahamasair.
There was expectation when in 2009 electricity was included among public utilities to be regulated by the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) that BEC would become a more responsive and accountable entity. This belief was reinforced when the 2013 national energy policy set out the government’s intention to build a modern energy infrastructure enhancing generation capacity, safety and reliability and promoting sustainable “green” energy opportunities that could contribute to overall energy supplies in the future.
Importantly URCA as the designated regulator of the sector was to be responsible to consult with all stakeholders – energy suppliers and consumers – in the development of a licensing regime for suppliers, monitoring the development of the renewable energy supply and overseeing the development and implementation of a consumer protection policy.
Sadly, those policies are largely pretty words on a piece of paper. Progress toward improved generating and reliability capacity has been slowed by indecision and wavering on the part of both BPL leadership and the government. And, while URCA commenced public consultations earlier this year on the development of a process to assist consumers in their complaints against energy suppliers, in reality consumers remain hostage to BPL. Complaints on service interruptions, damage to equipment and presumably economic losses must be made first to BPL and referred to URCA only after a satisfactory result is not received. But to what avail? There are no penalties in place for failures on the part of BPL.
We dare to hope that the installation of the mega generators, whose delivery to the Clifton Pier plant has periodically disrupted evening traffic in the west during the past 10 days, will in fact bring relief to BPL consumers soon.
In any event, the inability of BPL to meet the energy requirements of residents and businesses on New Providence suggests that it is time to privatize this essential utility.