By Donald De Riggs
Jimmy Cliff once sang, «There are more questions than answers, and the more I find out, the less I know»,.
This expresses the feelings of many Vincentians when it comes to utility bills, especially bills for electricity used. Many consumers now feel that they are being charged twice. How can that be? Consumers are charged for the amount of units used, called the «energy charge», then charged VAT if the amount of units exceeds 150 KWh and then the iniquitous and questionable fuel surcharge.
In school, when we were taught about pricing/costing in business entrepreneurial studies, the «per unit» selling cost/price of any item included all costs, including the cost of production*, cost of transportation*, any duties required by the government if it is an imported item and, of course, a reasonable profit which hovers in the range of 30% of the consolidated cost (when you add up everything). Now that’s what constitutes the «energy charge» that appears on your VINLEC bill (which will be sent electronically after the end of May 2022, but I wonder how some consumers will be billed electronically when they only have lights but no computers or smartphones in their homes?). *Fuel included.
But why an additional fuel surcharge, when the cost of fuel has already been factored into the «energy charge»? It just does not make sense, but it adds up to what we are forced to pay. The speculation is that all consumers are being made to pay for the electricity used by street lights, schools, hospitals, clinics and government institutions, some of which have lights, air conditioners and fridges running 24/7. Ever wondered how much electricity is consumed by street lights alone?
The move to use LED lights instead of sodium vapour lights helps to reduce the total KWh and carbon footprint, but the investment should have been to use solar powered LED street lights which are widely used in Dominica and elsewhere, which would bring the consumption of electricity by street lights generated by diesel to ZERO, ultimately reducing the wicked fuel surcharge on our monthly bills. Many years ago we never had a fuel surcharge, as the fuel cost was already factored into the «energy charge», so how can the fuel surcharge now be more than two thirds of ‘energy charge’ as it is on some bills ?
It is now the opinion of many Vincentians, including myself, that any new building should be off grid, with VINLEC only as a back up. Concessions for the importation of renewable energy devices must be a policy of the government to encourage our country to «go green». Besides being unsightly and vulnerable to storms, utility poles, copper lines and transformers need regular maintenance, with the last mentioned causing interference to sensitive electronic equipment including communications devices that are used by radio amateurs who provide a valuable service to humanity, especially in the aftermath of any disaster.
Following complaints by the amateur radio community in St. Kitts, the court has ordered the company using electronic metres to cease operations of that type of metre as they create a lot of interference hampering communications across the radio frequency (RF) spectrum. This follows testing by their telecommunications regulatory organisation that the electronic meters were the direct cause of the RF interference. Similarly, we should resist similar moves here, unless these metres are fitted with filters to block unwanted RF interference.
It should not be difficult for Vincentians to grasp the concept of renewable energy. We have had a legacy of using renewable energy in the past — hydro, wind and solar. There is still ample evidence in the form of water wheels and aqueducts used to grind sugar cane, and on the eastern coast of the island, like Ratho Mill, Rawacou and Grenadines there is still evidence of the windmills used to grind the cane. Solar energy is still being used as it was in those days to dry cocoa, corn, fish and to make copra. The cost of solar panels is now quite affordable, electricity can now be produced and stored for both day and nighttime use, so what are we waiting for? Union Island is a prime example of how that can be done.
Today, we use river water to produce electricity at three locations — Richmond, South Rivers and Cumberland — but more efficient turbines can be placed on the existing lines to use the same water five or more times to increase the generation of electricity, instead of just three as is the case in the Cumberland hydro project. The investment must be in renewable energy going forward. Give the concessions to both locals and investors for new and retrofitting projects. It will also create employment opportunities for our young people. We have not yet discussed our wave energy potential which is now a maturing technology, with our eastern sea coast «ripe for harvesting». This technology has minimal impact on the marine environment.
‘Nuff said for now and e’nuff to chew on.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected] .
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