Transformation of the energy sector, to bring more players into the industry so as to achieve greater efficiencies and reduce costs to consumers, was the key focus of the Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Phillip Paulwell, during the first 100 days of his stewardship.
The Minister, recognising that Jamaicans are burdened by the high energy prices, said the time has come to liberalise the sector and introduce a fully competitive arrangement that “will see competition from the generation side right down to the retailing of electricity”.
He said the government intended to facilitate an inter-connectivity arrangement with the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), “so that anyone will be able to generate and supply consumers directly."
“I think we have to introduce competition now to enable consumers to assert the power in the marketplace and to ensure there is free and fair competition. We are committed to that and it is going to happen,” he stated.
As the government advanced liberalisation plans, Minister Paulwell announced the appointment of a team of experts to the board of the JPS to lead negotiations with executives of the company.
The team consisted of Principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona, Professor Gordon Shirley; Head of the Mona School of Business Evan Duggan; and Senior Director for Energy in the Ministry Fitzroy Vidal.
The JPS, in March 15, unveiled conceptual drawings for construction of a new multi-million dollar Hydroelectric Power Plant in Maggotty, St. Elizabeth, which will double capacity at Maggotty from six megawatts to 12.3 megawatts.
As part of measures to reduce energy costs and improve access to alternative sources, Minister Paulwell said government intended to remove the General Consumption Tax (GCT) on electricity and reduce duties on renewable energy equipment.
Tax on renewable technologies, in some cases, has added up to 20 per cent to costs, and Mr. Paulwell said that government cannot seem to be penalising Jamaicans for trying to embrace technologies that provide cheaper electricity.
He stated that government remained committed to the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project and intends to adhere to the 2014 deadline for completing the required facilities for its successful implementation. He said there are plans to re-open discussions with Trinidad and Tobago for the souring of LNG from that country.
The LNG Steering Committee, he said, will remain intact, with only two members changed, and that the chairman had been asked to continue to serve.
Government also renewed its commitment to providing electricity at affordable costs to rural communities and marginalised groups across Jamaica through a rebranded Rural Electrification Programme (REP). The REP’s rebranding will now see a shift from "rural electrification" to “diversified energy solution provider”.
The REP is expected, overtime, to seek to provide cost-effective and affordable energy to approximately five per cent of Jamaican households that are currently not electrified, most of which are classified as rural and marginalised.
This objective is consistent with the new administration’s intention to "enable marginalised groups access to electricity at affordable rates”.
The REP is now charged with the responsibility of conducting a survey, which will inform the implementation of policy and the promotion of a massive public education programme designed to achieve acceptance of the new technology, as well as the increased practice of energy conservation measures.
Minister Paulwell charged the new REP Board, under the chairmanship of Dr. Garnet Roper, to adhere to good governance and transparency, particularly with respect to the procurement of goods and services. He also advised the leadership and staff to consult and properly engage those being served and to respond to their issues and concerns in a timely and compassionate manner.
Cabinet, in March, approved the establishment of the proposed Jamaica Energy Council (JEC), to be chaired by Minister Phillip. The Council is being set up to, among other things, deliberate on and give consideration to the country’s energy needs, going forward, and how these will be addressed.
There were also positive developments in the information communication technology (ICT) sector for which Minister of State, Julian Robinson with direct responsibility.
The Ministry has been aggressively targeting investments in the sector, and the efforts are gaining traction, with a number of overseas investors expressing interest in coming to the island.
The Ministry will be spearheading legislation for the establishment of a “super regulatory body” to effectively monitor the telecommunications sector. This will be brought about through the merging of the Spectrum Management Authority (SMA), the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) and the Broadcasting Commission (BC).
As it relates to science, Minster Paulwell stated that following consultation with Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller, a decision was taken to re-activate the National Commission on Science and Technology (NCST) as part of the thrust to make science and technology a major driving force in the development of the country.
“Its main focus is to provide a policy platform for the country in areas such as science and technology adaptation,” he said, noting that the University of the West Indies will play a key role in these efforts.
He also announced the reinstatement of the national award programme in science and technology (S&T) innovation, starting this year, to celebrate and award excellence in the field, so as to encourage greater use of S&T, and create an enabling environment for innovation and creativity.