KINGSTON — To carry out its social responsibility of providing certain basic services, such as free health care, free education up to the high school level, the school feeding programme, the PATH programme to assist the very poor, and the provision of water and roads, the Government has to raise revenue, particularly through taxes.
However, there is one tax that consumers have an incentive to avoid, if they continue to exercise conservation, and that is the special 10 per cent General Consumption Tax (GCT) on electricity consumption exceeding 200 kilowatt-hours by residential customers, that was introduced in December 2009.
At that time, the government acknowledged that more than 70 per cent of residential customers of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) did not consume over 200 kilowatt hours of energy per month, therefore the tax would not be a burden on the poor as this would not be reflected on their light bills.
Speaking in the House of Representatives recently, Minister of Finance, Hon. Audley Shaw asserted that over 375,823 or 74 per cent of JPS customers do notnow pay any GCT on electricity, because they consume less than 200 kilowatt hours per month.
“The high cost of electricity continues to be a source of concern to all of us,
and further underscores the need for the Government of Jamaica to accelerate its energy diversification programme and embrace cheaper sources of energy,” he said.
Head of Corporate Communications at the JPS, Winsome Callum, tells JIS News that the light and power company began applying the special GCT on electricity bills with usage of over 200 kilowatt hours, in March 2010.
This means that just over a year later, a large number of residential customers still manage to keep their monthly consumption below 200 kilowatt hours.
“Some 74 per cent of our residential customers do not pay GCT on their electricity, because they use below 200 kilowatt hours per month. On the business side, all commercial customers pay GCT on their bills except for zero rated customers. The group of zero rated customers that do not pay GCT on bills include: ministries, all departments of government, parish councils, certain statutory bodies, hospitals and schools,” she advises.
To avoid paying the tax, consumers should try even harder to cut back on their electricity usage which, in turn, will ultimately reduce Jamaica’s oil import bill.
To this end, the Government is hoping to get even more persons to reduce their energy consumption, and have been working assiduously to transform the cultural and habitual energy practices among Jamaicans, in an effort to reduce the country’s energy costs by at least 15 per cent.
In this drive, thousands of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) have been distributed to households islandwide, under the Cuba-Jamaica Compact Fluorescent Lamp distribution project, commonly calledthe Cuban Light Bulb programme.
The fluorescent bulbs are a replacement for the high energy consumption incandescent equivalent. The distribution strategy allows citizens to lower their personal light bill, and the country to reduce energy demand.
Principal Director (Policy) in the Ministry of Energy and Mining, Oral Rainford, informs that individuals have been receptive of the programme, adding that “what we had initially set out to do has been completed.”
The distribution of the fluorescent lamps is anticipated to have a significant impact on the national energy bill, as persons traded in incandescent bulbs, which generate up to 150 watts, for 14-watt fluorescent lamps which give off as much luminance or ‘light’ as a 60-watt incandescent bulb.
Other means of ensuring that consumers remain among the 74 per cent cohort of residential customers who do not pay GCT on their electricity bills is continued conservation.
The Finance Minister is therefore calling on every Jamaican to do everything in their power to conserve on the use of electricity. “Turn off the light bulbs, use energy-saving bulbs, turn on the water heater 15 minutes before you need it and engage in pool driving to work,” he underscores.
Meanwhile, Miss Callum strongly recommends that all appliances and equipment that are not being used, be turned off and unplugged. She adds that simply turning off appliances is insufficient, as many appliances continue to burn energy while they are plugged in, even if they are not being used.
Another conservation tip she suggests is finding alternative measures, which do not include electricity. “For example, instead of using a clothes dryer, use sunshine or the wind to dry your clothes. Instead of using the air-conditioner or the fan, open the window and use wind,” she tells JIS News.
Miss Callum also encourages customers to lessen usage time wherever possible. “Try to reduce the number of hours you use appliances…When you are cooking, you do not need to keep the (electrical) stove on for the entire process. You can turn the stove off and continue to use the heat from what is retained in the burner,” she says.
She underscores that proper maintenance and servicing is critical in the process of conservation, adding that “appliances will remain energy efficient if they are adequately maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions."
Other energy conservation tips can be found on the light and power company’s website at: www.myjps.com.
The Jamaica Public Service Company currently generates 68 per cent of the electricity power in Jamaica.
By CHRIS PATTERSON, JIS Reporter