Emera and the Grand Bahama Power Company are eroding Freeport’s economy

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Dear Editor,

While Emera Inc. and the Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) continues to grow by leaps and bounds from a financial standpoint, many businesses and residents on Grand Bahama, especially in Freeport, continue to catch eternal hell.

GBPC recently started operating its $80 million West Sunrise plant with a 92 percent Bahamian workforce. That is good news for this decimated economy on Grand Bahama. But that still cannot put a dent in the high jobless rate. With the 52 Mega Watt plant now in operation, business and residential customers should obviously see a reduction in power outages during the hot Summer months, unlike the suffering folks in New Providence who have to put up with the hopelessly inept Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC).

I commend Emera for improving Grand Bahama’s electricity service. Reliable and efficient power service is the key to developing any first class city. But I have an issue with GBPC’s pricing practices. According to the July 3 edition of The Tribune, the average base rate of business and residential customers was set to increase by $0.03 per kilowatt hour (kWh), from $0.178 per kWh to $0.208 per kWh.

Knowing that many Grand Bahamians would undoubtedly take exception to this new increase, GBPC representatives said that it would be offset by fuel related efficiencies generated by the new plant. Amazingly, GBPC representatives also said that they trust Grand Bahamians will understand that the base will have to increase to absorb the investment in the new plant. Mind you, this is on an island with an unemployment rate that is around 30 percent and growing. Grand Bahama’s jobless rate is among the highest in the region. Yet these people are talking about increasing our base rate which is already too high. The past several years have taught me that GBPC doesn’t care about struggling Grand Bahamians. All they are concerned about is their bottom line. Period!

What’s more, GBPC’s power rates are among the highest in the entire Caribbean. Even its customers in Canada where Emera is headquartered does not pay the kind of electricity rates that they are charging the poverty stricken people of Grand Bahama. Yet Canada is listed as the 14th wealthiest nation in the world, according to Forbes Magazine. GBPC’s power rates are so high, many Grand Bahamians now find themselves way behind in their electricity bills. Some have been disconnected, and have resorted to using generators and even kerosene lamps.

What disturbs me is that the GBPC told The Tribune that it was given a clean bill of health in its billing practices via a report for its regulator, the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) by the PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) accounting firm. The GBPA used to be the owner of the GBPC. But it was allowed by the Ingraham administration to sell the power company to Emera, without the consent of the licensees of the Port. That was a violation of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement. Under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, the GBPA has a fiduciary responsibility to provide electricity service to its licensees.

Ever since Emera came to this island, many businesses have either scaled down or closed down outright because of their inability to keep up with GBPC’s excessive power rates. I think it was just last year that the Fenestration Glass Company closed down its operation in Freeport after having to grapple with excessive power bills. The company moved to the U.S. where it is cheaper to do business. Some 60 plus workers were placed on the unemployment line as a result of the closure of that business establishment.

Another 40 workers were left without a job after Savemore Food Store went belly up. The managers said that the electricity bills were also a factor in them deciding to close down. Now it appears that another successful business might be forced to close down as a result of the outrageous power bills from GBPC, Butler’s Food World. From what I have gathered, Jeff Butler owes GBPC over $400,000.

According to a Freeport News report, GBPC charges him $26,000 a month for his store on West Atlantic Drive. If Butler closes his store, some 50 workers would be negatively impacted. This would mean that Emera and the GBPC would at least be responsible for 160 job losses in one year alone on this decimated island. And I am not even counting the many other businesses that have closed down since the advent of Emera to Grand Bahama. The tragic stories of these failed small businesses never made it to The Freeport News. That is why the lines are extremely long at Social Services. According to a recent Freeport News report, some 4,000 Grand Bahamians are being aided by Social Services. Poverty has seen a sharp increase on this island. And it continues to get worse.

As I have said before, residential customers are faring no better with GBPC. As a customer of the GBPC, how is it possible that I am billed $280 per month for my small three bedroom houe, while my friend who lives in Bahamia in a massive house with a washer and a dryer is billed around $180 a month? Even more alarming is the fact that she and her family use their washer and dryer every other day. I don’t have either a washer or a dryer, yet I am billed $100 more than they. Where is the rhyme and reason behind that? Yet GBPC says that they have been given a clean bill of health on its billing practices from PwC. Yeah right!

The onus is now on the new Christie administration  to deal with Emera. They have caused enough damage to this island. We cannot take it anymore. The GBPA should have never been allowed to sell the local power company to Emera. Never. The Progressive Liberal Party government must move quickly to get the GBPA to repurchase the GBPC from Emera. I am fully convinced that Emera must bear at least half the blame for Freeport’s shoddy economy. As long as Emera is on this island, Grand Bahama’s economy will continue to erode.

Kevin Evans