Thursday, May 20, 2010

GBCC Chief Turnquest slams Power Company


The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce (GBCC) is urging the Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) to reconsider its decision to pass on its temporary increased operating cost to the public, in consideration of the continued tough economic times in Grand Bahama.

In a statement released yesterday, GBCC president K. Peter Turnquest said the Chamber is profoundly disappointed and frustrated by the inability of the GBPC to maintain a stable electrical supply to the island, evidenced by the unplanned electrical blackouts and load shedding over the past few weeks.

Such instability is a significant detractor to potential investors, Turnquest noted.

"One of the main considerations in attracting and retaining new investors to a destination, especially an offshore destination like ours, is a stable and consistent utility service," the statement read.

"The inability of the power company in this instance to provide this basic service consistently and efficiently, puts the government, The Grand Bahama Port Authority and institutions like the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, at an extreme disadvantage in our promotional activities, making efforts to generate new investment that (much) more challenging."

Turnquest said the Chamber was further frustrated by the GBPC's announcement that customers would see increases in their bills this month.

"While we cannot pretend to know all of the factors that have led to this current situation, we are of the opinion that a properly scheduled and operational maintenance and replacement plan, complete with adequate inventory of spare parts, should minimize the need for these excessive shutdowns and inconvenience to the public that is left with no options due to the nature of our operating and legal environment," Turnquest continued.

Such a plan would allow for a levelling out of plant replacements, upgrades and maintenance events, he said, so as to avoid the spikes in rates that have been announced, while ensuring that the power plant has a consistent schedule to meet current demand. Turnquest suggested some oversight and lack of proper planning. Consumers, however, should not be made to suffer the consequences of that, he said.

"That's the power company's problem and they have to deal with that. I don't think that it is a cost that should be passed on to the consumer. That's a cost of being in business and the need to structure their business as such."

The Chamber has received complaints from at least two business owners who had equipment and appliances damaged and experienced losses as a result of the recent outages, the president noted, and sympathizes with them.

"One was a flower shop. The lady lost all of her mother's day sales as a result of the outages, and her refrigeration equipment was damaged. It was obviously a very big loss for her. She has to pay her suppliers, and because her flowers were damaged, she got no revenue so she was in a bind. As a small business person she really can't afford that kind of a loss," he said.

The Chamber is encouraging everyone to ensure that their premises are properly grounded so as to minimize future risks for similar losses.

"We would likewise encourage the power company, as a part of its social outreach, to conduct its own safety audits, at customer's request, so as to not only help protect the consumer but to also minimize its exposure to liability from future claims," the statement further informed.

"We trust that the investigation of existing claims for damages will be undertaken with fairness to all parties and that at the end of the day where responsibility is determined, just compensation will be made as soon as possible so as to minimize the disruption to businesses and residents alike."

Turnquest believes the GBPC should put priority on investigating claims made by residents and businesses.

"It's no fault of their own. They subscribe for a consistent clean supply of electricity and have done everything that they need to do to protect their equipment and if there's damage I think that somebody ought to be liable."

Turnquest said he fully supports the government's proposal to have the GBPC, like the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, regulated by the new authoritative body, the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA).

"Obviously they need some kind of control. It just cannot be left to them to determine from day to day what they feel the public can afford. There has to be some kind of control mechanism in there because at the end of the day the consumers have to have some kind of protection to make sure they are getting the best possible operating cost," he said.

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