The Chamber of Commerce’s spokesperson on energy yesterday slammed government plans to increase Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) bills to repay an upcoming rate reduction bond.
Deborah Deal, who chairs the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation’s (BCCEC) Energy and Environment Committee, said, “I honestly feel like we’re being held hostage.
“Every single time we turn around, there’s another debt.”
Deal added, “There’s not one single thing that’s good about this. They can’t even tell us the amount that they’re actually going to add on to the bill. And we don’t know if this is going to be in lieu of the fuel surcharge or if it’s going to be an additional fee.”
She continued, “You don’t seem to be able to get any straight answer out of BPL. Whenever they say one thing, then they turn around when you question it and it’s something else.”
Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister tabled the Rate Reduction Bond Bill in the House of Assembly earlier this month. The move comes as BPL attempts to tackle its more than $300 million legacy debt and looks to raise another $350 million for new spending.
BPL Chairman Dr. Donovan Moxey said electricity consumers should brace for additional charges to their bills. In response to public outrage over the announcement, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said if BPL does not increase light bills, the government would have to raise taxes to deal with the power company’s debt.
Deal, however, argued that the plan to increase bills is especially egregious given the power company’s history of poor service.
“If they were any other business in The Bahamas, and you went to them as a customer and you saw how they were dealing with their business, and they gave you as bad a service and as unreliable a service at the highest cost possible, you wouldn’t deal with them,” she said.
“But it’s the only company we have.”
She added, “It also says that every six months, they will look at it again.
“And if the amount that they’re charging isn’t enough to pay, because all you’re paying for is the loan. You’re just paying for the interest for the persons who are actually lending BPL the money. That’s the only thing it’s for. So, the debt isn’t actually going to be paid off. All they want to do is clear this from their books so that they can go out and borrow more money. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Deal argued that despite assurances from the government otherwise, responsible consumers will be punished for those who don’t pay their bills. She also questioned why BPL has not employed other measures to prevent issues with delinquent customers.
“Desmond Bannister said it’s not the case, but the customers who pay their bills in full and on time will be penalized for the persons who don’t pay their bills, because when they reassess it every six months, and people haven’t paid their bills and there’s not enough money collected, the people who have paid will have to pay more,” she said.
“In this country for five years, we have had prepaid meters sitting at BPL. Prepaid meters are an awesome tool to save companies from going in the red because people actually have to pay for their electricity in advance.
“[P]eople will actually start looking at the fact that their meter is running out. They’re going to have to put more money on it. They’re going to look around their building and see, ‘Where am I bleeding energy?’
“And this is actually going to help people conserve energy. There are so many good tools like this, but they’re not talking about that; things that are already here.”
In addition to refinancing its legacy debt, Moxey said the bond will fund the installation of “modern power generation that is cleaner, more efficient, reliable and ultimately will lead to cheaper electricity costs”.
Deal questioned why the funds are not being spent on renewable energy instead.
“They’re asking us again, like they always do, to be patient and ‘this is what’s going to have to be done or we’re going to have to raise taxes’,” she said.
“Well, you know what, nowhere did they mention anything to do with solar. They talk about lower fuel costs.
“Well, we signed the Paris Agreement back in 2016. They keep talking about how by the year 2030, 30 percent of our energy will be renewable, but we’re not doing anything to actually put us towards doing that.
“We’re probably at four percent if we’re lucky.
“So, how can we keep borrowing money to continue to use fossil fuels, and how is that going to be better for us? It’s not going to be better for us.”