Op-Ed: PLP failure at BPL hurting Bahamians

Op-Ed: PLP failure at BPL hurting Bahamians
Killarney MP Dr Hubert Minnis.

Today, Bahamians are suffering with astronomical Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) electricity bills during what is one of the most intense heat waves in recent times.

In traditional media and on social media we see complaints by people whose light bills doubled this summer. In addition to dealing with the effects of global inflation, Bahamians now must deal with the disaster at BPL made by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).

As much as they try to run and deflect, to duck and dodge, the massive spikes in BPL bills are a disaster of their own making.   

A constituent of mine showed me his light bill from July 2021 compared to his light bill of July 2023, which came out earlier this month. In July 2021, he used around 1,070 kilowatt-hours and his bill was around $240. In July 2023, he used 1,020 kilowatt-hours, slightly less than July 2021, and his bill was around $330. Even though he used less electricity, his bill went up by almost $100.

The reason for this is the now well-chronicled arrogance and ineptitude of the PLP. They ignored the professional advice from BPL’s leadership and the technocrats at the Ministry of Finance, failing to execute the successful fuel hedge trade that would have kept the fuel surcharge down and manageable. To compound their folly, the Minister responsible for BPL misled the Bahamian people on multiple occasions in Parliament instead of doing the honourable thing and owning up to the PLP’s folly. The Prime Minister was in denial, for his part.

Their arrogance and ineptitude doesn’t stop there. They pledged in their manifesto, ‘Blueprint for Change’, that within 100 days they would take steps to bring down the cost of electricity. Like with so many things they pledge, it simply was not true. The PLP on coming to office imposed additional VAT on the fuel surcharge, on top of the actual bill and terminated the maintenance contract with the Wartsila company that made the new engines, thereby increasing the price of and access to parts and decreasing reliability. 

They have done the opposite of bringing down the cost of electricity. This has happened because they could not bring themselves to admit that the Free National Movement (FNM) had a good thing going and all they had to do was continue it. We know they don’t tend to be gracious. We don’t expect them to give my administration credit for keeping the electricity rates low. But we would have been content, nonetheless, if they did the right thing for the Bahamian people.

Their arrogance and ineptitude continue. The FNM left several other initiatives well in process that would have allowed this PLP to bring stability to the electricity system and reduce costs. All they had to do was be humble and listen to the advice given to them by the professionals at BPL.

As a country we need to move BPL and the electricity sector forward. There are some immediate things that should be done.

The first is to go back to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and discuss the possibilities for putting a fuel hedge programme back in place. 

At last check crude oil prices were trading at around $77 a barrel, which is well down from the near $120 per barrel price peak at the start of the war in Ukraine. The government must work with the experts to determine the right time and opportunities to lock in a steady price for the oil BPL uses so we, the Bahamian consumers, can get off this surcharge roller coaster. We in the FNM showed how it could be done.

Second, the government must immediately accelerate the IDB solarization programme the FNM began back in 2020. 

The government has $80 million in funding already approved and available to it to implement solar projects throughout the Family Islands and in New Providence. When the Davis administration took office in 2021 the programmes were well advanced. In fact, three projects had already gone to the contract stage to provide solar energy to several government institutions. These projects would have already been operational by now.   

What did the arrogant and inept PLP government do? They canceled the contracts, even though these contracts went through the full open IDB-mandated procurement process.

So almost two years later we have had no real movement in getting solar projects up and running. All we have had from the PLP is talk, talk and more talk. And while they talk and take photo ops and make flashy videos, nothing is happening to improve BPL or further move us toward greater use of solar power.

Written by: Former Prime Minister Dr Hubert A Minnis