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Lights out! Call for reduced public sector energy bill and increased RE utilisation

The Government is being urged to drastically cut spending on energy in the public sector as the country grapples with increasing payments for oil.

With the Government presenting an almost flat spending plan for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, analysts used a recent Gleaner Editors’ Forum to point to the high cost of electricity and fuel in the Budget.

“All ministries must now go solar,” declared political commentator and attorney-at-law Dr Paul Ashley.

University lecturer and talk-show host, Richard ‘Dickie’ Crawford, agreed with Ashley, noting the rising cost of fuel on the world market.

“The first thing really is to reduce the cost of energy,” Crawford said.

The Government was forced to tack on approximately $1 billion to the Budget last year – $500 million going to street lighting – for the payment of light bills. This was despite a mandate to public-sector entities to cut their utility bills at the start of the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

Financial Secretary Wesley Hughes told the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament in March: “Most of the ministries and departments failed to realise the 15 per cent savings in usage that we have targeted.”

Public institutions such as the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Education were some of the biggest consumers of electricity.

No reference point

But there was no clear indication of which entity paid what.

“Now, the central treasury at the Ministry of Finance is paying the utility bills, so we do not have a reference point to say how much individual entities were paying before.

“What we do know is that many entities were not paying their bills, and some would lose service, hence Government’s decision to start paying,” Wykham McNeill, chairman of the PAAC, told The Sunday Gleaner.

He argued that it is critical that the Government lead by example, as it is one of the largest users of electricity in the country. Former Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell agreed with McNeill. He said during his tenure as minister, the Government embarked on a programme which retrofitted hospitals for solar energy for water heaters.

“We took a decision that we would lead by example with energy-conservation efforts. We also wanted to extend the Cuban light-bulb programme to all public institutions, starting with schools, which are high consumers of electricity,” Paulwell told The Sunday Gleaner.

The Cuban light-bulb programme became embroiled in controversy as charges of corruption and fraud were laid against Kern Spencer, the former junior minister, who was in charge of the project.

Include schools

According to Paulwell, schools should be included in the current phase of the distribution programme as reductions would be seen.

He pointed out that the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica had embarked on a pilot programme to provide solar panels for street lights, one of the high consumers of electricity.

Under this programme, solar panels would be placed on light posts, which would “generate and store energy for night-time use”.

The view of the guests seemed to be in line with the Government’s thinking.

In the Throne Speech to mark the start of the new Parliamentary year on Thursday, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen amplified the call by Energy Minister James Robertson for new energy sources.

Sir Patrick said work towards the introduction of natural gas to reduce energy costs was at an advanced stage, and this would improve the country’s competitiveness.

He noted that requests for proposals (RFPs) for the supply of liquefied natural gas were to be issued shortly.

The governor general also pointed to the fact that RFPs had gone out for the installation of 480 megawatts of new generating capacity to replace old generating plants whose inefficiency was contributing to the high cost of energy.

“This is of particular importance to the manufacturing sector, whose ability to compete is significantly affected by energy costs,” the governor general said.

 

Source: Jamaica Gleaner



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