Implementation of an appropriate energy policy has been given great urgency, with the bi-partisan and stakeholder-involved Jamaica Energy Council (JEC) having its first meeting, on April 20, at Jamaica House.
The Council, which is chaired by Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Hon. Phillip Paulwell, with Opposition Energy Spokesman, Gregory Mair, as his deputy, seeks to facilitate consultation and the speedy implementation of the country’s energy strategy.
Addressing the meeting, Minister Paulwell pointed out that when Cabinet gave approval for the establishment of the JEC, it noted that this would facilitate broad-based consultation among key energy sector stakeholders, and expedite implementation of Jamaica’s National Energy Policy 2009- 2030.
He explained that focus of the Council will include consideration of fuel choices for diversification, energy security, renewable and indigenous energy source development, energy conservation and efficiency as well as opportunities to achieve and sustain price competitiveness for the business community.
The Minister said that the cost of energy, most of which is imported, is inimical to the country’s growth prospects, as the “total annual spending on imported oil since 2003 has increased drastically from just over US$800 million to US$2.7 billion in 2008.”
He pointed out that after debt servicing; energy cost represents the greatest outflow of foreign exchange. The average monthly oil price for the period January 3, 2011 to December 31, 2011, based on the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Spot Price benchmark, was US$94.87 per barrel.
The Minister cited the prediction of leading economists who have posited that crude oil prices are likely to exceed US$140.00 per barrel before the end of the calendar year 2012.
Mr. Paulwell said that notwithstanding the obstacles to energy access and affordability, the barriers, while complex, cannot be overcome and solutions sustained, unless the national outrage and dissatisfaction with energy prices is translated into a national “call to action."
He emphasised that all sectors of the society “must be engaged” and that leadership must come from the top.
“It is in this regard that the Government and Opposition, private and public sectors, non-government and community-based organisations and civil society must work together to address the problem. The establishment of the Jamaica Energy Council is one such response and I implore all the members to seize the moment and make Jamaica the common interest,” the Minister said.
Citing the involvement of the Opposition in the promulgation and implementation of the energy policy, the Minister said the occasion is yet another “signal to the nation that a new day has dawned and that going forward, the subject of energy must never be captive to partisan or selfish special interest discourse."
“Jamaica is at the crossroads and the decisions we make and the actions we take will undoubtedly determine what we bequeath to subsequent generations,” Mr. Paulwell said.
Lamenting the high cost of electricity in Jamaica, which averages US42 cents per kwh, and climbing, the Minister described the situation as “unacceptable and is largely responsible for the low economic growth experienced for too long."
“The electricity infrastructure is old and inefficient and system losses remain unacceptably high. Many customers of the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) are forced to make choices between paying their electricity bills and buying food, accessing educational and health services, as well as paying rent and mortgages,” the Minister said.
Mr. Paulwell pointed out that as a consequence (of the high energy cost), “businesses have to make hard choices too."
“There are contraction of services, closures and we have seen several (businesses) relocate to other more competitive markets within the Caribbean. The high price of electricity drives many to seek illegal means to access the commodity and unfortunately putting themselves, their families and the unsuspecting public at risk, due to the unsafe practise of illegal connections,” the Minister noted.
The main areas of focus under the purview of the JEC include: energy policies; energy conservation and efficiency; public education; electricity (light and power); development of energy resources; renewable energy resources, including but not limited to solar, wind, hydro, biomass, geothermal and ocean thermal energy sources; alternative energy resources, including but not limited to natural gas, nuclear, waste to energy and electric vehicles.
Also included are: conventional energy resources, including but not limited to oil and coal/petroleum coke; oil and gas exploration; petroleum refinery haulage, storage and distribution; energy access (urban and rural electrification) and affordable prices; governance framework for the energy sector, including fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to stimulate investments into the sector towards achieving the Energy Policy goals.
By Allan Brooks, JIS Senior Reporter