Meyers: “We are striving to give the most responsible relief”

POSTED: 01/26/12 12:12 PM

St. Maarten – “Not very much relief has been given.” That is the very “frank” way in which Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications Franklin Meyers has responded to the concerns Members of Parliament (MPs) expressed Wednesday about the high cost of electricity bills issued by utility company GEBE. The MPs and the minister are also not pleased that the company continues to make losses on its water distribution business and yet continues to make “huge profits on the backs of the people.”

Independent Member of Parliament Patrick Illidge gives his “marching orders” to GEBE to give people relief on their electricity bills during Wednesday’s general public meeting of parliament.

“I will be frank that not much relief has been given. With the 36 percent water loss and the profits continuing we can see clearly that someone is paying and it is the consumers. We are striving to give the most responsible relief and for that we are waiting on the results of an independent tariff study that is being conducted by Bureau Telecommunications and Post (Curacao). There was a delay in that process because the company refused to provide the unrestricted data. I wrote them a letter stating the government would be forced to state what the company would charge even if it is to company’s detriment and after that the information started to flow. There was also a delay because a presentation by BTP Curacao that was scheduled for January had to be postponed because the Director – Mr. (Jaoa) de Canha had to have surgery. That presentation will now take place in February,” Meyers said.
The minister also told parliament that the government is working on an overall Energy Policy that will include promoting green/alternative energy that GEBE’s current concession does not allow for people to resell electricity to the energy company and that using wind energy will be an expensive venture that will not necessarily lift the current level of service.
“The average cost for one wind turbine is between $1.5 million and 3.5 million and they only generate two megawatts. GEBE has a current generating capacity of 108 megawatts and the country consumes 96.6 percent of that. If we wanted to use wind turbines we would have to spend at least $50 million to reach 50 percent of GEBE’s capacity and we have to ask ourselves who would pay. Also consider that these windmills are usually placed in wind friendly areas, because if there’s no wind they don’t generate any power. We’ve thought it may be possible to put them offshore but we have to consider that our territorial waters are small based on the fact that we have to contend with St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Barths so close by. So we are limited,” Meyers said.

Criticism/Suggestions
MPs from especially the opposition National Alliance, which had requested the meeting were all clear that they are unhappy with the bills that consumers are paying and called for the government to do more to get the prices down. They are particularly concerned about the way the company applies its fuel clause.
“For years people have been suffering under the heavy fuel clause levied by GEBE. The people have been begging, screaming and pleading for relief. How can we rid ourselves of the financial terrorism,” National Alliance MP Louie Laveist said at the start of the deliberations.

National Alliance Member of Parliament Dr. Lloyd Richardson calls for labels on electric appliances so people can determine its energy efficiency.

He’d go on to call the company’s continued profitability vs continued water losses “one of the greatest rip off scenarios in history.” This critique included a suggestion that the company hire at least 10 people to drive around and identify where there are leaks in the pipes.
Dr. Lloyd Richardson who is also a member of the opposition National Alliance is afraid that tourists will begin believing that the energy prices – part of the cost of living – are a reason to vacation elsewhere. He also encouraged GEBE to provide more information on how people can save energy if it is unable to afford investing in renewable energy.
“The government should implement regulations so suppliers of appliances will put on their products an estimate of how much energy the appliance uses so people can decide whether to buy a more expensive item that is energy efficient or if they still want to buy something that is cheaper and uses more energy,” L. Richardson said.
National Alliance faction leader William Marlin zoomed in on the profits versus inefficiencies and the fact that the fuel clause remains “a real burden.”
“The annual report for 2009 shows a 20 million guilder profit. It should never be that such profits are generated on the backs of the people. The water leaks abound and I wonder how much profit the company would have if the leaks and theft of electricity is stopped,” Marlin said.
Independent MP Patrick Illidge called for a “brand new board” with a vision to bring down the cost of electricity.” He also slammed to company for continuing to invest in “gas guzzling generators” and not spending any of the 77 million guilders it has in the bank on developing renewable energy sources. There was also sharp criticism of the company’s policy not to pay compensation for electric appliances that are damaged by power fluctuations.
“Let us cut the bureaucracy. We are practically embedding the losses in people’s bills. I want to break the chicken open from scratch and it must start now,” Illidge said.
Democratic Party (DP) faction leader Roy Marlin is also concerned about the water losses and queried the plans for increasing the water storage capacity. He also called for more action on implementing the use of renewable energy sources. One example he gave was talking to the company that provides Aruba and Curacao with its wind turbines and then approving a motion calling for the company to move on renewable energy within a stipulated time frame.
Independent Member of Parliament Frans Richardson believes that parliament needs to use the tool of legislation to get the results it desire from GEBE. He also suggested that his colleagues support motions tabled by one of more members that will give relief. He also believes that the company should make the move to implementing the use of renewable energy sources.
“Let us find the opportunity to give GEBE an instruction. For example that within the next five years for GEBE to move to alternative energy and also regulations that will allow who can afford it to switch and sell the energy back to the company. Let’s make laws to deals with GEBE. It’s time GEBE put money back into renewable energy. If GEBE can’t then the government needs to create another company or open the market. It’s time for action and action is now,” F. Richardson said.
The independent MP also called a flyer on conserving energy that GEBE sends out to its customers with their bill ineffective and a nuisance.
“Maybe people should send the flyer back tell GEBE how they want them to reduce their bills,” F. Richardson said.
United People’s (UP) Party MP Jules James suggested that GEBE set up a hotline that people could call when they see a leak. The company would then “hold themselves accountable for dealing with the leaks.”

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