Kelly Tomblin didn’t hesitate when she admitted that the greatest challenge she faced in her five years at Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS) was electricity theft.In fact, the power company’s president and CEO, who is leaving next month, managed a chuckle as she spoke about the problem that has plagued her company for decades.
“You know, it is really hard to deal with the amount of electricity theft in Jamaica, it’s really hard,” she told the Jamaica Observer with a heavy sigh.
“We estimate about 180,000 homes, that’s about a million people”, who are benefiting from electricity theft, Tomblin said in an interview at her office last Wednesday.
Frustrated by the level and persistence of the theft, JPS, in January this year, said it was ready to name, shame, and prosecute offenders — a 180-degree turn in its policy of declining to take legal action against electricity thieves who, Tomblin had disclosed last year, were costing the company US$2 million per month.
“We now strongly believe that if we do not prosecute, name and shame, we cannot win. We will therefore be working more closely with the police to make arrests and prosecution a major part of our anti-theft strategy going forward,” JPS’s Director of Revenue Security Major George Kates wrote in the company’s Energy Matters column published in the Observer in January.
But even amidst the hard approach Tomblin has empathy for Jamaicans, who she believes are unable to pay for the utility.
“My heart’s torn because you have people who absolutely cannot pay,” she lamented last Wednesday. Her pain, she said, got worse when the company took a decision to cut electricity to communities where theft was more than 80 per cent.
“That’s the one that leaves me with the most pain… that one moment of turning the power off,” she admitted.
“We can’t keep giving power to these communities and make other people pay. That was a defining moment for us, because I think we said we just cannot take this any more,” Tomblin told the Sunday Observer.
“We did cut off people, and we had a cease-and-desist order from the OUR (Office of Utilities Regulation) and public outrage, but for us it’s just like it comes to a point where you have to say the situation is not being addressed,” Tomblin explained.
Although electricity theft is now a crime punishable by a heavy fine and/or five years in prison, JPS has been working with communities to halt the practice.
That effort, Tomblin said, started under an agreement with the previous Government for a community renewal programme which involves the installation of prepaid meters.
The programme was implemented in 10 communities and appears to be working well.
“One of the things I’m proud of is, I was just in Majesty Gardens — where we have community representatives who are helping people get power,” Tomblin said.
“I’m excited because these last few months we’ve seen losses go down. We’re happy we’re seeing a downward trend, the first time in a long time. This is the best performance we’re seeing in four years,” she added.
The improvement, while not yet in double figures, is significant as, according to Winsome Callum, director, corporate communications, the company actually saw a stabilisation of the losses before the movement south.
“It was a big thing just to keep it from going up,” said Callum, who sat in on the interview.
She attributed the development to a combination of strategies. “We continue to pull down [illegal connections], but we also continue to do a lot more with technology,” Callum explained.
In 2015, JPS took down 205,300 throw-ups — basically crude, illegal connections found mostly in depressed communities — and arrested 783 people for electricity theft that resulted in a loss of US$18.8 million to the company.
The power company continues to argue that it cannot solve the problem alone; the responsibility needs to be shared by political representatives who have influence over large numbers of people, as well as law-abiding Jamaicans.
“Can you imagine what a culture change it would be if people really got legitimate electricity throughout Jamaica?” Tomblin asked.
Kelly Tomblin, who has been the face of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) since she joined the light and power company as president and chief executive officer in 2012, is on her way out of the company, and heading to take up the CEO position at the United States-based power company, INTREN, effective July 10.
Tomblin will take over the day-to-day running of the firm from Loretta Rosenmayer, the firm’s founder and current CEO, who will now chair the board of what has become one of the leading utility contractors in North America.
Up to press time, Tomblin was off the island and unavailable for a comment. However, 4-traders.com, a reputable international stock market and financial news website, said Tomblin had confirmed to them that she is to be the new CEO at INTREN.
“INTREN would not be what it is today without Loretta’s vision, leadership and unwavering commitment to high standards and values,” Tomblin was quoted by the website as saying. “I am honoured to lead the INTREN team and continue the progress evolving before me.”
According to reports, Tomblin was selected from a competitive selection process from a strong field of candidates.
“She is a highly impressive and respected executive known for her ability to build diverse, meaningful cultures in a collaborative leadership style. As a recipient of the prestigious 2016 Platt’s Global Energy CEO of the Year Award, Kelly topped an impressive list of finalists leading companies in the United States and around the world,” the website stated.
During her time at JPS, Tomblin introduced several energy saving projects, as well as the use of liquefied natural gas in the country’s energy mix, even as she guided the light and power company through a profound transformation.
“This evolution comes at an extraordinary time for INTREN,” a report quoted Rosenmayer as saying. “Our momentum is strong, and our management team and employees have built an exceptional company that is one of the most trusted and respected in the industry. I’m confident Kelly is ideally positioned for her new role to continue our growth.”
INTREN has been an innovative solution partner, dedicated to building and maintaining the infrastructure of the energy industry for more than 25 years, and has served many of the nation’s foremost utility companies, private contractors and developers, and municipalities and cooperatives.
The push to get 30 per cent of Jamaica’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 is not a pipe dream and will be achieved, Government Senator Matthew Samuda has insisted.
The senator said that energy generated currently from renewable sources is 10.5 per cent of net electricity generation.
Speaking last week in the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate, Samuda noted that energy minister Dr Andrew Wheatley, upon taking over the portfolio last year, increased the 2030 target in the national energy policy to 30 per cent from 20 per cent.
According to Samuda, the target “certainly complements the top line objective of 5 in 4”, referring to the Government’s objective of achieving a GDP growth of five per cent by the end of the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
“This (energy target) is not a pipe dream, nor is this lip service being paid to the nation’s energy supply. I am happy to state here today in this chamber that Jamaica will target a further 100 megawatt (MW) of renewable energy for the grid, with a new invitation for proposals to be made public in the very, very near future.”
Added Samuda: “This project will have a transformative effect on the sector, and indeed, the country. These projects will, no doubt, strengthen a pillar for competitiveness and development, which is cheap, reliable, and clean energy.”
Last year, an additional 80MW of generating capacity from renewable sources was connected to the national grid, Samuda noted.
WITH ECONOMIES under threat due to climate change and prevailing high production costs, the recent Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF) served as a call to urgent action to realise energy efficiency and energy sustainability within CARICOM.
Kim Osborne of the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development at the Organisation of American States, said it is past time that talk be translated into action.
“There is always the challenge of maintaining a healthy balance between dialogue and implementation. Several studies and reports have noted that our region faces an ‘implementation deficit’, but I would venture to say that the region also suffers from a ‘dialogue surplus’,” she noted.
She was addressing participants at the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF), held in The Bahamas last week.
“There is a serious mismatch between meetings and results in our region. My point here is twofold: that dialogue is not an end to itself, and that dialogue that does not lead to action and to results is meaningless,” Osborne added.
At the same time, she said that energy must not be looked at in isolation, but rather in the context of sustainable development.
“In the normal course of things, energy is not provided in a vacuum. It impacts and is impacted by several factors, such as poverty, water availability, disaster risk, climate change, health, education and human resource development, human rights, and coastal and marine management,” Osborne said.
“I am proposing that to the fullest extent possible, an integrated approach should be adopted towards the goal of sustainable energy management,” she added.
For his part, Dr Devon Gardner, programme manager for energy with the CARICOM Secretariat, emphasised three things – partnership, integration and action.
“The partnerships are not just for the CSEF, but with the World Bank and the United States Government, we are able to implement the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Road Map ad Strategy (C-SERMS) platform … . Because of partnerships, we have been able to work with the member states,” he said.
On integration, he noted: “The CARICOM secretariat is really there to serve the member states. We do what the member states require to get the job done. The CARICOM is a group of countries within the Caribbean that we want to do some things together because it makes sense for us to work together to achieve mutual and shared objectives. And the role of the secretariat is to help the member states to realise this objective.”
Added Gardner: “We believe that all that CARICOM desires – from economic development to climate resilience to social resilience to security – is underpinned by having a strong energy sector … . We see energy as a critical part of the regional integration tool.”
In the end, Gardner said there was no question of realising C-SERMS energy targets that include 47 per cent renewable power capacity by 2027 without urgent action.
A number of regional leaders – among them Dr Regilio Dodson, Minister of Natural Resources in Suriname – have noted their support for an integrated and unified approach to the energy efficiency and sustainability in the region.
“We should work together … . We have to actively promote success stories … and learn from each other and go together and try to determine what is for our region the best way forward,” he said.
“If we work together to get this going and get the cooperation between CARICOM countries going, then we will have our energy security in our own hands, ” he added.
Among the topics explored over the three days of discussions at CSEF 2017 were ‘The CARICOM Energy Policy Road Map and Strategy: Shifting the C-SERMS from Concept to Action’; ‘The Regulator Within the Integrated Resource Planning Process’; and ‘The CARICOM Energy Transition: Lessons from the Last Five Years’.
The forum also saw the meeting of regional working groups on key thematic areas, including information and knowledge management, finance, capacity building and research, as well as policy and regulations.
ENERGY MINISTER Andrew Wheatley has sought to quiet ongoing concerns over reports that the new Chinese owners of ALPART, Jiuguan Iron and Steel, are looking to set up a 1,000-megawatt coal plant in Jamaica to support their operations.
“Where we are right now, we have not received any application, any proposal, as it relates to a coal-fired plant at ALPART. What we know for a fact is that the new owners are rehabilitating, retrofitting the old ALPART facility,” he told The Gleaner on the sidelines of the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF) in The Bahamas on Tuesday.
“The plan is for them to use the traditional source of fuel – HFO – to drive that bauxite facility. We expect that facility to be up and running in another 16 to 18 months, starting to produce bauxite and employing Jamaicans,” he added.
“I don’t want to speak for them, but I know they are exploring other sources of energy, separate and apart from coal,” Wheatley said further.
At the same time, the minister suggested that this ministry would not readily entertain any such application.
“The truth is that coal is a part of our energy policy, a part of that mix. But if we are to embark on such a direction, it would have to be after serious consultation. We would have to ensure that there is some technology that would, more or less, mitigate against the negative environmental impacts associated with coal in the past,” he noted.
“So there is a clean-coal technology being mooted. That is something that we would have to explore. But we would never engage or embark on the use of coal – at least that capacity of producing 1,000 megawatts – without our having the necessary consultations with the different stakeholders,” he said.
News of the 1,000-megawatt plant accompanied the sale of ALPART to Jiuguan last year. The construction of such a plant would exceed Jamaica’s current generating capacity of some 800 megawatts while threatening to undermine efforts to treat with climate change, which prompted outcry from among civil society actors.
The minister’s statements on what would need to happen regarding any coal project, meanwhile, are in line with what the Council of the Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals called for last August.
“We look forward to seeing the holistic analysis on the full economic costs and benefits for the chosen source of energy, including the lifetime costs of energy production, the cost of treatment of pollutant emissions and effluent, the cost of any investment or operation costs for ensuring compliance with all relevant national environmental and working standards,” the entity said.
“This analysis should include critical factors such as the economic cost of health effects and medical treatment from exposure to plant emissions and effluent on workers and communities surrounding the plant,” the council added.
Ultimately, like a number of other civil society actors, it concluded: “It is our position that a coal-fired plant is counter-productive to Jamaica’s own Vision 2030 and our other commitments on energy, sustainable development, and climate change,” it said.
“We hasten to point out that there is a cost associated with sourcing and transportation of coal from overseas; the potential impact on human health, including long-term treatment; and the cost of ensuring that all relevant national standards are met,” they added.
The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) is preparing for a battle with the Government over any attempt to review its operating licence.
The JPS was put on its guard last Friday when Government senator and chief technical adviser to the finance minister, Aubyn Hill, declared that the Andrew Holness-led administration is obliged to review the licence of the light and power company because of threats to the Jamaican economy.
Opening the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate, Hill called for a review of the modified licence issued to JPS last January, because it “seems to be quite opposed to the interest of Jamaicans”.
“We have to look at that licence carefully [and] as a new Government, we’re obliged to,” Hill told his parliamentary colleagues.
But Kelly Tomblin, the president and chief executive officer of the JPS, in a quick response, rejected Hill’s reasons for questioning the changes to the licence and expressed the hope that his comments would not suggest that Holness will shred the contract.
“I’m sure, similar to how the Government has continued on the framework for fuel diversity, that this Government certainly wouldn’t suggest that a licence negotiated in good faith, in which the JPS has made investments, would be negated by a subsequent government,” said Tomblin.
“Surely, he’s (Hill) not suggesting that,” added Tomblin.
In his Senate presentation, Hill argued that he was making the call from his position as a senator.
“Because I may have some influence on policy, I do not lose my right as a senator to bring up independent issues. My position is quite different from a recommendation, and if I gave a recommendation I probably would not be speaking on it publicly,” said Hill.
The international banker argued that the replacement of the price cap regime with the revenue cap in the licence “could dampen economic growth” because JPS’s growth is no longer tied to that of the economy.
“A good argument can be made that the revenue cap approach blunts any incentive on JPS’s part to support the expansion of renewable sources of energy or to improve efficiencies in their current business,” said Hill, who is the chairman of Innovative Renewable Energy & Electronics Limited.
He said giving the JPS the right of first refusal to replace generating plants due for retirement entrenches the company’s near-monopoly and is inconsistent with international standards and Jamaica’s national energy policy.
Tomblin rejected those claims, arguing that Hill was making “inaccurate conclusions”.
“We negotiated with the Government for our licence amendments that we believe serve the country. We have about 31 guaranteed standards that are monitored by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR).
“Our overriding goal is to support economic growth. This (Hill’s arguments) requires a more fulsome discussion with the utility,” said Tomblin.
Hill’s call came days after the OUR announced new regulation which should give it more power to monitor the operations of the JPS and other entities which generate or supply electricity.
The regulation will govern the operational standards and established procedures for handling the generation, transmission, distribution, supply and dispatch of electricity across the island.
According to the OUR, the regulation adopts five grid codes, which are generation, transmission, distribution, supply, and dispatch.
“The codes, which were finalised in August 2016, have been developed in parallel, and are designed to be used in conjunction with each other,” said the OUR.
Electric avenues that can transmit the sun’s energy onto power grids may be coming to a city near you.
A subsidiary of Bouygues SA has designed rugged solar panels, capable of withstand the weight of an 18-wheeler truck, that they’re now building into road surfaces. After nearly five years of research and laboratory tests, they’re constructing 100 outdoor test sites and plan to commercialize the technology in early 2018.
The electricity generated by this stretch of solar road will feed directly into the grid. Another test site is being used to charge electric vehicles. A third will power a small hydrogen production plant. Wattway has also installed its panels to light electronic billboards and is working on links to street lights.
The next two sites will be in Calgary in Canada and in the U.S. state of Georgia. Wattway also plans to build them in Africa, Japan and throughout the European Union.
“We need to test for all kinds of different traffic and climate conditions,” Harelle said. “I want to find the limits of it. We think that maybe it will not be able to withstand a snow plow.”
The potential fragility joins cost as a potential hurdle.
“We’re seeing solar get integrated in a number of things, from windows in buildings to rooftops of cars, made possible by the falling cost of panels,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Pietro Radoia said. “On roads, I don’t think that it will really take off unless there’s a shortage of land sometime in the future.”’