KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, April 24, IWN – The Government should consider changing the base year used for the calculation of its fuel surcharge in an effort to reduce electricity prices here, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace says.
Eustace, speaking on his weekly radio programme on Monday, said opposition MPs Daniel Cummings and St. Clair Leacock have been examining this issue.
“That is something that we are examining and we will make a presentation not long [from now]. Leacock and Cummings have been doing some work in this area, looking at some alternatives. If you do that, you will be able to get some rates down,” Eustace said.
Eustace spoke of the impact of high electricity cost on households, businesses, and the national economy, including its ability to attract investors.
He noted that electricity costs have been increasing partly because of the price of oil.
But he said prices are also climbing because of “some inefficiency in VINLEC, including the inefficient use of the funds for that project (power plant) down at Lowman’s Bay”.
He said the high cost of electricity is causing a lot of hardships.
“It really is bringing hardships, very serious hardships on hundreds of people, thousands in fact, in this country,” Eustace said, adding that he is not hearing solutions from the Government.
“They will tell you we don’t control oil process. I know that. But you can make efficiencies in what you are doing to stave some off the impact of the high oil prices,” Eustace said.
“The surcharge is killing people,” Eustace said as he suggested that the Government change the base year or the calculation of the fuel surcharge.
He noted that the fuel surcharge falls when the nation’s hydropower plants generate large amounts of electricity.
“But it is a critical thing. It is affecting lives and you can’t wait too long to take a decision. A decision should have been taken already to try to bring some ease to the public.
“And the situation is so difficult right now for most people and sometimes the difference is between that and food. And most people do not want to lose their electricity for various reasons — and for all the obvious reasons.
“And I am appealing to the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to examine this issue right now. Look at the date all over again and see how you can restructure to bring some ease to the public.
“And there are ways you can restructure — accounting and other ways, which we need to examine more closely, and alternative sources of energy, which we need to pay more attention to,” Eustace said.
An ‘all-consuming’ problem
“The electricity problem is all consuming. And very often, we don’t look at it in that way. We see it simply as people not able to pay their bills and therefore they experience some hardships.
“It is much, much wider than that. Electricity, as a cost of doing business in St. Vincent, is very high and therefore helps to keep prices very high.”
He said some businesses, including supermarkets, pay more than $1.5 million a year for electricity.
“Today, when you go into a supermarket at the electricity price is over one and half million dollars, you are paying for that.
“Now, a business man wanting to come here to set up a business, that is going to affect him too,” he said, adding that the cost of electricity impacts employment.
“So, the Government has to take a stand.
“I want people to realise that as long as electricity continues to be high, our country is less competitive…
“If we manage to come up with arrangements to bring the cost of [operating] VINLEC down, we will see a difference in businesses in terms of their cost. We will see a difference in prices too, if we can make some significant reduction in the price of fuel. And these are the things we have to look at,” Eustace said.