The vexed issue of the massive debt owed to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) was on Wednesday discussed by Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) amid members expressing displeasure over the darkness of roads in their constituencies.
The PAAC, which was examining the Second Supplementary Estimates 2017-2018, heard that a total of $8.6 billion was owed to the company for street lights by the Ministry of Local Government and $800 million for supplying electricity to government-run schools by the Ministry of Education. The street light debt dates back several years, and some committee members bemoaned the fact that sections of their communities, and roads islandwide were without street lights.
The PAAC heard that despite the missing street lights, Government has been charged the same rate by the light and power company. Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison gave a breakdown of the debt by the two entities following a request from PAAC member Phillip Paulwell for a breakdown of the debt to the company.
“… With respect to the amounts owed to JPS, the $8 billion that is referenced there is actually a rounding. It’s $7.8 billion to $7.9 billion, and it’s specifically for street lighting. That is what is owed for street lighting by the local authorities. The other reference speaks to arrears owed by education facilities,” Morrison said.
Committee member Mikhail Phillips asked how much was owed to the National Water Commission as the entity was strapped for cash and unable to do anything in the last two years.
The financial secretary was unable to provide the figure.
PAAC member Juliet Holness was not amused by the debt figures and the missing bulbs.
“I must add my voice to member (Phillip) Paulwell. We are paying for electricity bills at the same rate each year regardless of whether or not a 100 per cent of our street lights work or 50 per cent. We have one steady bill, it would appear, while still-substantial portions of the country remain in darkness. It would be very good for the Ministry of Finance in its discourse with the JPS to verify how soon they will be at a stage where we can start seeing declining bills and better service,” she said to the committee. She said that rural roads continued to be neglected.
The good news is that more and more coal powered generating facilities are being taken offline as competition from natural gas and renewables make them too expensive to operate. The bad news is the land they are built on is often so battered and bruised from years of pollution it can’t be used for anything else.
The Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has launched a new standard that will cover general safety requirements for electrical appliances for household and similar purposes.
Launched on March 2 at the Bureau’s office, in Kingston, the new standard, known as JS IEC 60335-1:2010 (AMD1:2013+ AMD2:2016), will also cover voltages for appliances not more than 250 for single-phase units and 480 volts in other appliances.
It also covers battery-operated appliances and other direct current (DC) supplied appliances, and appliances not intended for normal household use, but nevertheless may be a source of danger to the public as well as children.
The standard replaces the JS144: Part 1:1987 Jamaican Standard Specification for Safety of Household and Similar Electrical Appliances—General Requirements.
It does not cover appliances intended exclusively for industrial purposes, personal computers and similar equipment and transportable motor-operated electric tools.
Addressing the launch, Senior Energy Engineer in the Science, Energy and Technology Ministry, Mark Williams, said implementation of the standard will lead to greater empowerment of consumers, “allowing them to be more informed when purchasing appliances for their homes.”
“It will also give a sense of confidence seeing a label that indicates that the equipment has been tested, certified and safe for use,” he said.
Mr. Williams acknowledged that the standard represents a small part of the wider energy strategies that the country is currently pursuing.
He commended the BSJ on the new standard and pointed out that it is directly in tandem with goal one of the National Energy Policy, which seeks to ensure that Jamaicans use energy wisely, and aggressively pursue opportunities for energy conservation and efficiency.
“Residential appliances and equipment represent one of the fastest growing energy loads. Therefore the development of these standards is critical to the whole process of promoting energy efficiency in the use of household and similar electrical appliances,” he said.
Meanwhile, Director General in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Vivian Brown, commended the BSJ for its continued support of the electrical industry.
He emphasised the role the Government will continue to play in the protection of the health and safety of consumers, while at the same time, “providing them with crucial information to guide their choice when purchasing household and electrical appliances.”
Data provided by the Director General showed that between April and September 2017, local consumers made 196 complaints to the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) relating to electrical equipment and appliances.
“This showed an increase from the 176 complaints in 2016, a movement of 11.4 per cent,” he noted.
Additionally, in 2017, the Jamaica Fire Brigade reported that over the previous three years there had been a steady increase in residential fires caused by defective electrical wiring, faulty or failed appliances or damaged appliance cables.
“Standards are critical in the conformity of our products and services with international standards, and providing assurance to consumers on the quality, safety and reliability of these products and services (is necessary),”he said.
For her part, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the CAC, Dolcie Allen, said standards should become a way of life for consumers and not only during times of trouble.
“We will be working with the Bureau and also with the (vendors) of these electrical items to see how much we can educate our consumers on doing their due diligence,” she said.
Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid, has reiterated the call for Jamaicans to better protect children against all harm, especially the danger of fires.
This comes against the background of a series of fire-related incidents, the latest of which claimed the life of seven-year-old Amelia Williams on February 8.
“It concerns us that we have had too many of these fires, so we have to ensure that our homes are safe places for our children and that they are monitored at all times,” he said.
The Minister was speaking to journalists on February 8, following the launch of a coin drive, dubbed ‘Education Makes Cents’, at the Friendship Primary School in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, where Amelia was a grade-one student.
Senator Reid emphasised that young children must always have adult supervision, noting that it is “really disconcerting when our precious children are taken from us so soon and in such tragic circumstances”.
He added that greater effort must be made “to strengthen our capability to ensure that we better care for, nurture and protect our children”.
Senator Reid said the Education Ministry is working to increase its input in safeguarding the nation’s children, particularly through the Child Protection and Family Services Agency, “to make sure that our children are well taken care of, and that there are no vulnerable situations that our children find themselves in”.
In extending condolences to Amelia’s family and school community, the Minister expressed the hope that this latest tragedy “will inspire us to even greater resolve to make sure we protect our children from all harm and danger”.
At least six children have died in fires since the start of the year.
Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley said the Government is leading by example and saving money as it works to encourage Jamaicans to use energy responsibly.
He noted that through various initiatives under the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Programme (EECP), the aim is to ensure that government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) become a model for the rest of the society in terms of energy management.
“We believe that if we as the public sector show the rest of Jamaica how we are saving as it relates to managing electricity, (by) cutting down our electricity bill, it will not only act as a perfect example, but also you will see the workers within the public sector bringing to their homes, their communities, the practices that we are doing within the public sector,” he said.
Dr Wheatley was speaking at a ceremony for the relaunch of the JPS Foundation Energy Club at Merl Grove High School in Kingston on Wednesday.
He informed that the Government has realised $135 million in savings to date under the EECP.
The initiative, being implemented by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica through funding from international partners, aims to retrofit a range of government facilities, including public health, administrative and educational buildings, and facilitate training in best practices for energy efficiency and conservation.
Some of the conservation measures undertaken include coating glass windows/doors to reduce the amount of heat entering buildings; improving the cooling system by using more energy-efficient air-conditioning units; and installing cool-roofing systems.
Over 40 government facilities from the health, finance, education and security sectors have, so far, been retrofitted with solar-control film, cool-roof solutions or energy-efficient air-conditioning systems.
To ensure continued responsible energy use at government facilities, Dr Wheatley pointed out that just last month, an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Standards Guide was launched, which contains standards to which MDAs will be held accountable in order to lower electricity consumption.
The guide, which will be made available in April, was developed through the EECP.