'Challenged' to reject local bid's power takeover

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The government's election promises mean it will "be challenged" to reject a Bahamian group's bid to take over power supply to East and West End, an advocacy group chief is arguing.

Pastor Eddie Victor, head of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCC) and long-time campaigner for lower Grand Bahama energy costs, said the Northern Bahamas Utilities (NBU) proposal was a perfect match for the energy sector goals outlined in the Free National Movement's (FNM) 2017 campaign manifesto.

This pledged to increase renewable energy penetration and expand Bahamian ownership/participation in the industry - objectives that Pastor Victor says NBU's offer meets, hailing the group's plans as "a new beginning for the energy sector in The Bahamas".

Pastor Victor and his Coalition have been working with NBU's principals to arrange town meetings throughout West End in a bid to obtain public support for the group's plans, with this effort set to shift to East End come early August.

They are seeking 1,000 signatories on a petition backing NBU to take over electricity supply from the GB Power, and are hoping to present this to West End MP, Pakeisha Parker-Edgecombe, by month's end.

NBU, founded by ex-GB Power executives, had been working for three years to realise an opportunity that depends entirely on the government ending their former employer's 25-year monopoly.

GB Power's agreements to supply East and West End expire within months, and Pastor Victor likened these deals to the 'port exclusivity' deal signed with Hutchison Whampoa by the same Ingraham administration, describing them as products of an era when the Government was desperate to incentivise economic development.

Suggesting that the need for such 'exclusivity' has long passed, he told Tribune Business: "I don't think the Power Company agreements anticipated that, 25 years later, you would have a Bahamian company that could do it.

"What was also not anticipated was the problematic business model the Power Company is using when it comes to the delivery of power. That's proving to have adverse effects, and we also have to consider that they're [GB Power] challenging URCA's right as regulator."

K P Turnquest, the Deputy Prime Minister and east Grand Bahama MP, told Tribune Business that the Government was "reviewing" the East and West End electricity supply situation but declined to comment further.

"The agreement is being reviewed, and we will have more to say about that once the process is completed," he said.

Pastor Victor, though, warned the Government that it will effectively be going against its own election campaign promises should it ignore NBU's proposal and instead opt to renew with GB Power, which is now 100 per cent owned by Canadian utility giant, Emera, following the ICD Utilities buy-out.

"The Government is going to be challenged with a couple of policies," he told Tribune Business. "They're going to be challenged to stand firm on various policies they've announced to the public.

"The development of the energy sector, as it relates to renewables and Bahamian participation, it's all stated in the FNM manifesto. They laid out policies that incorporate everything this company is offering, such as building an alternative energy plant.

"It's going to have Bahamian ownership and investment in the company. That falls all in line with the Government's goal to see more Bahamian ownership, participation in the energy sector."

NBU says its solar proposal can reduce energy costs by 40 percent, and create up to 100 jobs, if permitted to take over power supply to Grand Bahama's East and West End through a $30m investment in two utility-scale solar plants.

The group is proposing a six megawatt (MW) solar plant, backed up by ten MW of cleaning burning propane, for West End, and a smaller version - a three MW solar plant, with six MW of propane back-up - for East End.

NBU, whose principals include Dr Carlton Bosfield, Rodger Johnson, Alexander Brown and Leon Cooper, would take over between 2,600 to 3,000 potential customers outside the Port area in West End, and around 200-250 in the east, if successful.

They would then seek to acquire GB Power's transmission and distribution infrastructure - wires and poles - outside the Port area, and link these directly to its solar plants. NBU is also offering to sell any surplus solar energy to GB Power at a price of 15 cents per KWh.

GB Power, though, is unlikely to give up its existing supply agreements, and monopoly, without a fight. West End, in particular, holds out the potential of being an extremely lucrative supply market as a result of the Ginn sur mer project's seemingly imminent revival under the new ownership of Toronto-based Skyline Investments.

The Carnival cruise port proposed for eastern Grand Bahama, together with the much-maligned Oban Energies project, also present profitable energy supply opportunities if they ever come to fruition.

Pastor Victor, however, argued that the NBU offer "could be a model for the rest of the Bahamas" plus enable the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) to expand its authority to Grand Bahama - at least outside the Port area.

GB Power is currently challenging URCA's authority to regulate it, on the basis that the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA) confers this right on the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) - not a national regulator.

Pastor Victor, though, argued that the GBPA was not properly fulfilling this role. "They're providing a regime that is pro-power company," he argued. "A regulator exists to protect the consumer and that is not what the GBPA is doing."

He added that NBU and the Coalition will hold their next meeting in Hunter's on July 19, as they bid to obtain the 1,000 petition signatures target, before moving on to East End.

"Almost everybody in the room wants this project to happen," Pastor Victor told Tribune Business. "This is the challenge our government is going to have if they don't approve it, because the people want it.

"The NBU project is a new beginning for the energy sector in the Bahamas, and the Government needs to give this group a chance to do it. These are not novices; these are professionals, well-educated with proven experience in the sector.

"This would be an unbelievable achievement for this whole island in bringing down the cost of electricity. It's not only going to affect the economy but it's a Bahamian company, where revenues and profits stay in the country. That's the kind of project we need, but we're realising from what we've seen so far that there's no guarantee which way the Government is going to go."