The Senate is to appoint a joint select committee, to facilitate consultations between Government and Opposition members on engaging the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) in discussions on its monopoly, as well as the pursuit of newer energy sources.
This follows an amendment to a Private Member’s Motion brought by Government Senator, Dennis Meadow, which had originally suggested that the Government, in consultation with the Opposition, “move with alacrity to engage the JPS in discussions, with a view to breaking this monopoly, thereby opening the market to facilitate investment, taking advantage of the many renewable sources of energy that are now available."
The resolution also requires that “the Government, consistent with its energy policy, vigorously pursue new avenues of energy generation, including nuclear energy”.
The decision to amend the resolution was taken after Opposition Senator, A.J. Nicholson, suggested a more “structured and respectful” approach to seeking discussions with the company on the issues.
Senator Meadows, in his opening contribution, recommended that the Government leverage its share in the JPS, to break the company’s monopoly on electricity distribution.
“I believe that this may be achieved by leveraging the Government’s US$124 million (20 per cent) of the JPS’s net book value of total assets of US$624 million, as reflected in the company’s recently published financial statements,” Senator Meadows said.
He noted that the Government, with its leverage and some negotiations, should seek to purchase the company’s transmission and distribution assets, at a reasonable price.
“The Government will then list the shares of the new company on the local stock exchange, possibly though an initial public offering, while itself retaining a portion of the shares,” Senator Meadows said.
He noted that this process may be structured where the purchase sees the Government unexposed to laying out any additional cash, as pension funds, insurance companies, private sector companies and individuals, through the stock market, would supplement the purchase price for the assets.
Opposition Senator, Sandra Falconer, noted that with a 20 per cent share in JPS, the Government has to renegotiate the company’s licence. She added that, if the Government does not initiate these discussions, as the cost of electricity increases persons will find “ways and means” to provide alternative sources of electricity.
“JPS should not resist but work towards getting a reasonable deal, there will be great public resentment if JPS resists too strenuously. We know that the issues will be complicated and controversial,” Senator Falconer said.
Senator Hyacinth Bennett commended Senator Meadows for a “thoughtful and most timely” motion, and stated that the majority of Jamaicans view the JPS as “exacting a heavy toll on their pockets."
“We cannot afford to remain in a state of paralysis and not undertake a vigorous, bold pursuit of solutions to our plight as JPS customers. Therefore, we must enlarge our capacity for action. After all, history has but a few precious moments for every nation when what we do or fail to do changes the future in a decisive way,” Senator Bennett said.
Senator Meadows said that with a current average tariff of between US$0.32 and US$0.39 per kilowatt hour, Jamaica has the second highest energy cost in the region.He pointed out the JPS has a customer base of nearly 600,000 and a generation capacity exceeding 620 megawatts. It operates 27 generating plants, 54 sub-stations and owns approximately 14,000 kilometres of distribution and transmission lines.
By LATONYA LINTON, JIS Reporter