More than 20 months since the last general elections, the Electricity Regulatory Authority board is still not meeting, nor is its board or directors even properly constituted.
Speaking at the Cabinet press briefing Friday, Minister of Infrastructure Arden McLean said there was no reason to properly constitute the ERA board at this time.
‘[The ERA] has nothing to manage,’ he said. ‘I’d name directors, but someone needs to tell me what it’s going to do.’
Mr. McLean said the ERA only had the remit to regulate new licensees, which would only include the incumbent licensee Caribbean Utilities Company if and when its licence agreement is renewed.
‘CUC’s current contract is with government, not the ERA,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘Government just can’t release that to the ERA.’
Until the current licence renewal negotiations are concluded, there is no real point to having an ERA board, Mr. McLean maintained.
Those negotiations, which recommenced in November 2005 after a break due to Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, do not seem to be nearing an end at this point.
Mr. McLean said he would not comment much on the negotiations because they were ongoing.
‘We’re still in discussions,’ he said. ‘Like in any discussions, there are peaks and valleys.’
The government’s negotiating team is meeting with CUC representatives about once a month to try to reach an agreement, he said.
Former ERA Chairman and Opposition MLA Cline Glidden accepts that the ERA could not regulate CUC until it signs a new licence, but he disagrees that the authority could not be fulfilling its functions established in the Electricity Regulatory Authority Law.
In particular, Mr. Glidden thinks the ERA could be laying the groundwork for competition in the electricity industry here. But he does not believe the current government wants to see competition for CUC.
‘It looks like they’re anticipating a continuation of the status quo,’ he said. ‘If you don’t actively pursue competition, you’re still going to have a monopoly even when the new licence is signed in that you won’t attract investors.’
Another function of the ERA would be to review and approve any new electricity transmission or distribution licence applications, including CUC’s licence renewal when the negotiations are completed.
‘By not constituting the board, I think it’s a fair indication that the negotiations aren’t anywhere near concluding,’ Mr. Glidden said. ‘In the meantime, CUC is still doing the same things it did before. It continues to invest… and get a 15 per cent return [on the investment].’
Right after the elections, Mr. Glidden had received instructions from the government not to hold any more ERA meetings until further instructed. No ERA meetings have been held since.
Mr. Glidden said it would seem logical for the ERA to be a part of the current negotiations with CUC, even though the law does not specifically say it should be.
One ERA member, Managing Director Phil Thomas, has in fact been a part of the negotiating team.
Mr. Glidden, along with fellow ERA director and fellow Opposition MLA Rolston Anglin, resigned from the board last year, only after being asked by the government to do so. However they have yet to be replaced.
Another board member appointed during the last administration, Alan Roffey of Androgroup Ltd., is still on the board.
‘The minister did ask me to resign,’ Mr. Roffey said. ‘I haven’t done so because he hasn’t put his reasons in writing yet.’
Mr. Glidden said he surmised that the government would quite possibly make members of the current government negotiating team ERA board members whenever it comes time to sign the new licence agreement because they would be the ones most familiar with the situation