Paulwell concerned increased electricity theft burning J’cans’ pockets
With the non-fuel charge on the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) customers' bills climbing by 25 per cent between 2016 and 2021, Opposition Spokesman on Energy Phillip Paulwell on Tuesday lamented that Jamaicans are being forced to dig deeper into their pockets, owing to an apparent increase in electricity theft.
The charge moved from US 13 cents in 2016 to US 16.26 cents in 2021.
Paulwell said that apart from some glaring areas of inefficiency in the operations of the JPS's grid, the bulk of this increase is due to the theft of electricity.
The non-fuel charge is the cost of the transmission and distribution of electricity.
Paulwell reminded the Government that last year during his Sectoral Debate presentation, he recommended that the administration use money from the hedge fund tax to implement a large-scale project by using rooftops and other spaces in communities afflicted with electricity theft, to install solar panels to generate power for these poor areas.
The member of parliament for Kingston Eastern and Port Royal tabled a private member's motion on April 27, 2022, calling for the matter to be debated in Parliament.
However, Paulwell said his government counterpart, Energy Minister Daryl Vaz, said that the idea was unworkable and that the ministry would come up with other solutions soon.
“I again call upon the minister to be front and centre in finding a solution to the high level of electricity theft. This is one time I join in the call by the JPS for a national solution to reduce the amount of electricity theft. It will help to lower the light bills. Let's debate my proposal,” Paulwell stressed on Tuesday during his contribution to the 2023-24 Sectoral Debate.
Turning to the “so-called benefits”, which should have been derived from the massive switchover to the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the preferred fuel, Paulwell said that the LNG-generating plants are now the highest suppliers of electricity to the national grid.
The opposition spokesman said that independent power producers generate 298 megawatts of electricity and 132 megawatts from JPS, for a total provision of 432 megawatts.
NO FINANCIAL BENEFIT
He questioned whether Jamaicans are getting the financial benefit from the change over from ADO (diesel) and heavy fuel oil to LNG.
“The answer is no, and we must ask, why is this so?” he added.
“The fuel cost on our bills in 2016 was US 9 cents. By the end of 2021, it was US 15 cents – a whopping increase of 66.6 per cent. That trend has continued into 2023.”
He noted that expensive state-of-the-art infrastructure has been set up in Jamaica to produce LNG, “but it seems JPS customers alone are being asked to pay for this infrastructure and no one else”.
Paulwell, a former energy minister, said that during his tenure, it was contemplated that Jamaica would become the hub for the processing of LNG for the region, given the country's logistics advantages.
He said the idea then was that the throughput of LNG was intended to be a cost-sharing exercise to lessen the burden on JPS consumers locally.
“JPS customers alone cannot do it without electricity prices continuing to go through the roof, crippling businesses, large and small, and making it unaffordable for the domestic consumer, the so-called Rate 10 customers. New Fortress must find new customers, so the payback is shared between a larger group,” he contended.
And during Tuesday's presentation, Paulwell suggested that the Government begin negotiations with JPS on a new licence. With the current licence set to expire in four years, he said the Government should use its leverage to extract some concessions even before a new one is granted. This, he added, should include a definitive position to allow companies operating in special economic zones to generate, transmit and distribute electricity to themselves and their tenants.
Paulwell is also suggesting that the Government take steps to abolish the 20-year private power agreement licence and replace it with 10-year arrangement. He wants the Government to create the environment of truly free and fair competitive procurement and allow risk-takers to invest with the confidence of banking on their technology and efficiency in making their profits.
“Don't guarantee any more rate of return,” he said.