Coalition for Concerned Citizens

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The Compass - Coalition for Concerned Citizens
The Compass - Coalition for Concerned Citizens

It really doesn’t make sense to pay your electricity bill to keep the refrigerator on if you don’t have enough money left to buy food to put in the fridge.

It’s a lose - lose situation.  Electricity in our homes and businesses was designed to make the comfort of living more enjoyable but for those living and working in Grand Bahama, it has become somewhat of a nightmare because the high cost of electricity.

Many businesses have closed their doors or have decided to re-establish their businesses outside of Freeport’s jurisdiction and even out of the country because of the high costs of electricity charged on the community by the Grand Bahama Power Company.

However, GBPC officials insist that the rates are quite competitive and among the lowest in the region, however, when their parent company is actively involved in other utilities in the region then we all are suffering from the same issue. That issue is that the regions utilities are all monopolies that are absent true oversight to ensure that efforts are placed on producing electricity at cost effective rates Instead electricity is generated at cost plus. With no true oversight there is no mandated requirement for the utilities to find ways to reduce operating cost so their profits are practically assured.

After years of hearing promises new technologies and more efficiencies to reduce the cost of electricity, they said; enough is enough. The Coalition for Concerned Citizens which was launched in September 2013, headed by Pastor Eddie Victor of Living Water Assemblies of God. The Coalition feels that despite the claim of lower rates, the rates are just not low enough. Hence, he and his colleagues have embarked on the “Lower the Cost of Power” Campaign.

Since launching a petition drive against the power company several months ago, this group has garnered much support from the public. The Coalition has provided an opportunity for members of the public to fight for the financial integrity of their own households and business investments.

The premise here is that investors are not encouraged to invest or keep their doors open if their electricity bills drain all of their profits due to the high costs which leaves nothing for reinvestment. Furthermore, residents on the island are complaining that electricity bills are consuming a major portion of what they earn for a living.

The results of a survey conducted by the Families For Justice Group, which were released in February has suggested that there are over 10,000 people on Grand Bahama who are living without electricity. With the high rate of unemployment, underemployment, there are some homes where only one adult is the breadwinner. High power bills have become a scourge on the Grand Bahama community - a nuisance of sorts because it has driven up the cost of living for so many people.

It is as if the Freeport economic infrastructure was designed where only the rich and powerful will survive and the middle class is extremely miniscule. And the poor, well… they just make the most of a bad situation.

The Bowling Alley closed its doors in 2010 because of some legal issues with its former owners but the owner is also said that he was not prepared to continue to pay electricity bills totaling approximately $10,000 per month; Like the Bowling Alley and Save-more Food store whose operations was short lived in Freeport due to high electricity costs,  left some 40 people unemployed. Also added to this hit list, was the Fenestration Glass Company, which held such promise but like the others, it closed its operations with one of the main factors said to be high power bills which drained its profits. Fenestration is said to have relocated to the U.S. leaving approximately 60 persons unemployed as a result of its closure.

The Grand Bahama Power Company, however, is not taking its blows sitting down. It issued a statement recently which noted that the high cost of electricity is not exclusive to Grand Bahama, but it is a global concern.

In fact the statement said that the power company has been working arduously to reduce the cost of electricity from its end, adding that it has already decreased a number of factors affecting the monthly bills of its consumers compared to other Caribbean countries within the region.

The power company claims to have reduced the number of outages by 51 percent and customers should have seen a decline in the fuel portion of their bills; adding that the three cent surcharge was removed from bills from July 2012 which ensured a 7 percent decline in the rates.
The statement read that, “When compared to other Caribbean utilities, electricity rates at GBPC are on the lower end of the scale."

GBPC noted that over the long term, it intends to decrease its dependency on oil - which is a major factor in the costs being incurred by consumers.

The statement continued, “We are working with our parent company Emera to find alternative and renewable energy options that make the best business case for our customers. Right now, we are working on bringing CNG (compressed natural gas) to Grand Bahama, and we recently launched a Biofuel Demonstration Project that has the potential to be used as a fuel in the generation of electricity on island. It can also grow into a significant economic driver for Grand Bahama and the country."

The statement also alluded to the power company’s newly developed Economic Development Rate, which offers a discounted rate over a five-year period for businesses that qualify.

It seems as if all of the power company’s incentives have fallen on deaf ears or its efforts to ease the financial strain of power bills are not enough for the CCC to wave the white flag. Albeit, we have not seem any meaningful change in electricity cost due to promised improvements in technology or diversification in its fuel supply. The promise of change to effect significant cost saving seems to be recurring annual event to with no real result.

The war is still being waged.

Consumers are obviously not feeling any form of relief when their bills come out and many have taken to social media and websites to express the need for alternative forms of energy that would be easy on their pocketbooks. They have suggested a look at making the transition to solar or wind powered energy sources instead. And this should be encouraged.

In fact, the CCC is demanding that local consumers to be allowed to install solar energy systems and for a 10 Megawatt Solar Plant to be allowed connection to the Island Power Grid to lower the cost of electricity. They suggested that a plant be constructed and tied to the grid for less than 22 cents per kilowatt-hour seeing as electricity now costs between 38 and 40 cents per kilowatt.

Also, acknowledging the three-cent per kilowatt hour increase in 2011, the CCC is calling for this fee to be reversed because the purpose for which it was installed, has already been fulfilled. THe CCC has claimed that this tariff was granted by the Grand Bahama Port Authority to the Grand Bahama Power Company to assist the company in bringing in emergency power generators.  According to the CCC these generating units were shipped out in 2012 but the three-cent per kilowatt-hour was never removed. The CCC is also pushing for the same or similar incentives offered to investors be offered to local consumers as well.

The Grand Bahama Power Company has rebuffed such accusations, stating that three cent charges in the rates for rental generation were removed in 2012 when the company finalized its new regulatory framework. From the analysis done by CCC, this is not the case.

The statement continued that “The latest Carilec benchmark study confirmed that Grand Bahama Power’s rates remain competitive within our region, placing us in the lower end of the scale. (Question; how many power plants does Emera – GB Power’s parent has ownership / control over in the Caribbean region?) The improved efficiency of the new West Sunrise Plant and improved operational efficiencies resulted in a reduction of the fuel component of the bill.”

“Reducing our dependency on high priced fuel in order to continue managing costs for our customers is a part of our long-term strategy.  We continue to study all alternative and renewable energy options to find the option that makes the best business case for our customers. Right now, that means bringing CNG to Grand Bahama.  However we continue to look forward for the long-term and remain focused on making the right and sustainable business decisions for the benefit of Grand Bahama and our customers.” Blah Blah Blah says the CCC.

The CCC was apparently not appeased by the power company’s explanations and still continues the fight to lower the cost of power here. It is also petitioning the power company to allow other generating plants to be connected to the Island Power Grid. For East and West Grand Bahama the 25-year Line Extension agreement expires in 2018.

The CCC does not want this arrangement to be renewed by the Bahamas government, in hopes that power generation in East and West Grand Bahama will provide for a more stable grid as well as provide more employment in those communities.

There is some good that is coming out of the public’s united stand, however, because GBPC officials have actually met with the CCC.

On Monday March 10, 2014, a team from the Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCC) comprised of Pastor Eddie Victor, Pastor Dwight Jennings, Pastor Keith Russell and Roger Johnson attended a meeting at the Harold Degregory Building organized by the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville Minister of Grand Bahama. The meeting was between The Government, The Grand Bahama Power Company, The Grand Bahama Port Authority and The Coalition of Concerned Citizens.

According to a statement by the CCC, although they had a good and respectful meeting that lasted 3 hours, there were some major points that they did not agree on and there was some common ground.

In a telephone interview with the Compass, Pastor Victor said the meeting with the power company was set to address the five point resolution of the Coalition’s petition. The major thing that came out of that meeting, he said, was agreeing on devising a plan on how to get customers back on the grid and how they can address the issues of disconnected customers and terminated accounts.

He explained that persons with terminated accounts are customers whose security deposit has already been exhausted from their huge balances. In the system they are only shown as owing money to the power company but the power company cannot tell if those persons are still living at those residences or not.

‘They are not active customers. We also agreed on how we can get better payment plans for these customers and get them back on the grid,” Pastor Victor said.

As of March 2014, the Coalition’s petition has over 5,000 signatures he revealed. As they head into more meeting with the Grand Bahama Power Company in the coming weeks, Pastor Victor said that the group’s primary objective will remain trying to have the electricity rates lowered immediately.

We ask Emera / GB Power to share their rate structures in their North America Utility and other Caribbean operations for us to see what is really going on, after all they claim to be transparent. Let’s have a look.! Stay tuned.

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