Nov 21, 2023 Letters
There are complaints all over the coast about blackouts amidst rise in electricity rates. There is rising demand for electricity as standard of living increases. Demand is not met resulting in shortfall and blackouts. Demand is not likely to be met until the power generating plant comes on stream in two years.
People complain they don’t get good reliable service but still have to pay for electricity that is not available. It reminds me of the 1970s and later on the Corentyne. For months, there was no electricity, but we still were required to pay a minimum amount for non-existent supplies of power. And those who didn’t pay for blackouts had their wires cut not that it would have made a difference because either way there was no power.
Electricity supplies deteriorated after the Burnham government nationalized the power grid. During colonial rule and up until the early 1970s, the private sector reliably provided current. It wasn’t available 24 hours but at least for several hours during dawn and dusk, there was the availability of electricity for a price. The estates provided electricity to temples, masjids, and churches. Initially, only churches received electricity free from the estates. After protests, mandirs and masjids became beneficiaries.
Under private sector generation of power, I don’t recall ever having a blackout. In late evening or early hours, kerosene and other oil lamps were used to generate light for studies or cooking or holding wakes. Then the government learned that the people were getting electricity and that the system was working too well. The government decided to nationalize electricity companies and outlawed private generation of power. Government introduced a new concept among Berbicians called blackouts. Blackouts were probably experienced in the other counties also although I didn’t experience much blackouts in visits to Georgetown and New Amsterdam. Linden had continuous, steady supply of electricity virtually for free. When I visited Linden, I was shocked to observe that buildings, including homes, had lights turned on during sunlight hours. On the Corentyne, villages that supported PPP experienced continuous blackouts while those that supported Burnham had a steady supply of current. I was told that the same conditions existed in Demerara and Essequibo. In recent times, blackouts have not been politically motivated. Blackouts and rising bills affect lifestyle.
The continuous rise in electricity rates over the last several years have impacted day-to-day activities and production of goods and services. People noted that rising prices serve to drive up prices in goods, increase inflation, bringing hardship to the working class, especially the poor. And blackouts impact on productivity as well as studies. Many told me they are returning to the Burnham period of using oil lamps, bottle lamps, and diyas for light. People are dissatisfied with government’s performance in meeting the demand for electricity but are fearful of consequences to express their disgruntled views in public. They came to me to cry. In all fairness, meeting demand for electricity would cost a lot of money — perhaps US$50M to purchase plants leading to even higher rates. The public may find such a move unaffordable. Any further increase in rates for electricity may lead to protests and political fallout. At the same time, blackouts are unacceptable. Government has to tread carefully. The public need quality service at affordable rates.
One way to address blackouts or shortfall of electricity and rising demands is to encourage consumers to produce their own electricity from renewable solar generation of power. In the USA, government has been encouraging people to produce electricity thru windmills or from solar. Government has been giving tax breaks to switch to solar or wind generation of power. The government or electricity companies buy the electricity from consumers. Several Guyanese in different parts of America generate power from solar, earning large amount of revenues. The electricity is injected into the power grid; a meter continuously monitors how much power is injected into the grid.
The amount of power consumed monthly is deducted from that injected in the grid. The government or company send a bill for any deficit or a cheque for the surplus. Through this system, there is hardly a shortfall in electricity production or meeting rising demand. Blackouts are rare in USA. Companies are fined for blackouts; they also have to compensate consumers for damages to electronics and equipment that uses electricity. Because the fine is so high, companies ensure blackouts don’t occur.
Also in USA, rates for electricity are determined by a public board appointed by government on the recommendation of elected representatives or the public. Companies cannot arbitrarily change electricity rates. Rates are set by the public board. This white man model of generating electricity and rates for electricity should be considered in Guyana. To help brighten the villages during dark hours, we should encourage the lighting of diyas. Make every night Diwali until blackouts are eliminated.
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