Davis: BPL holiday programme not sufficient

PLP leaders say plan left in place would have brought relief

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis said yesterday that Bahamas Power and Light’s (BPL) latest reconnection exercise is a reasonable gesture, but an insufficient measure in bringing long-term relief to the thousands of customers struggling to keep up with increased power bills.

“It is not a new program and it has not proven to work over the years,” Davis told Eyewitness News Online.

“And so, yes it may bring immediate relief, but it doesn’t do away with the existing bill. It still has to be settled.

“The current bill will also have to be settled and [with] the high cost of electricity right now, if persons were challenged to pay what the bill was, they will be equally challenged to pay what it is now.

“And so, whereas, the gesture is [recognized] with the introduction of a program, I think they have to be more innovative in addressing the challenge.”

The power company announced the reconnection program last Friday.

BPL customers whose accounts are more than 60 days in arrears can pay 25 per cent of their overdue balance up until Friday and be returned to the power grid.

Similarly, customers who have already been disconnected can be reconnected by paying 25 per cent of their overdue balances, provided the payment is made by the close of business Wednesday, according to BPL.

When contacted, BPL Chairman Dr. Donovan Moxey indicated that there has been a notable uptick in reconnections since BPL launched the program, but was unable to provide figures as the power company was still tabulating.

BPL has held numerous reconnection programs over the years since around 2008.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced a reconnection program in June, but it remains unclear how many customers had their lights turned back on during the exercise.

Despite hundreds, if not thousands, taking advantage of these programs, the majority of those customers eventually slip back into delinquency, according to officials.

The number of delinquent customers without power as of the end of October was more than 5,400, according to Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

There has been a widespread public outcry over increased BPL bills in recent months.

The power company has attributed the increase to the rising cost of fuel in the last few months — before oil prices declined in November — and an increased reliance of its Blue Hills power plant, which used more expensive fuel.

BPL’s increased dependence on the Blue Hills power plant was the result of three fires at the Clifton Pier Power Station in September.

Two generators were damaged and remain in the hands of insurers.

Davis, who had oversight of BPL as the minister of works under the Christie administration, was asked for a solution to power company’s challenges and the thousands of people who remain in darkness days before Christmas.

He said the plan left in place under the last administration would have achieved results.

“Having dismantled that plan, I have to now understand what they are now doing to be able to make what I call… prudent suggestions, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader said.

“But I would start off by asking them, how are they containing the cost of operations; for example, overtime. I would ask them how they are managing fuel consumption versus what is being spent on fuel.

“Those are some of the low-lying issues that can bring relief. Without understanding what they have done or what they are doing, that’s the best I can respond to right now. The best plan was left in place which they have now dismantled.”

Parliament recently passed legislation that would increase the value-added tax (VAT) exemption ceiling from $200 or less to $300 or less — a move that is expected to assist more than 64,000 BPL customers.

The backdrop to the increased VAT exemption ceiling has been a nearly 50 per cent increase in power bills as of October, year-on-year.