Public energy meeting requested

Petitioners who objected to high power bills earlier this summer are now calling on the government and the Caribbean Utilities Company to hold a public meeting to address national electricity pricing and renewal energy issues.

An email to government and CUC representatives dated 30 June asking for a public meeting went unanswered, according to petition organiser Natasha Bunting.

The Chamber of Commerce plans to organise an energy forum in early October to discuss policy issues on energy, but Ms Bunting and the petitioners believe this will not be sufficient to gauge public opinion and would only involve government representatives, CUC staff and managers.

‘The people who won’t be there will be us, the thousands of hard-working, average wage-earners who have their pay cheques regularly disembowelled by CUC and a non-visionary, top-heavy government on a clockwork basis.

‘We have all seen too many of these ‘dog and pony shows’ in the past where they think the meeting is the end to it,’ Ms Bunting said in an email to the more than 2,000 petitioners.

The government and the Electricity Regulatory Authority is soon expected to make a decision on how electricity generated by consumers will be sold back to the CUC electricity grid, in accordance with licence agreements granted in April this year to CUC, and how much consumers will be paid for it.

The petitioners feel CUC’s customers should have had the opportunity to make their views on these issues known.

‘I can confirm that the petitioners want to have this community meeting in order to voice their concerns and fears and have any misconceptions answered. The ERA proposal is only from the CUC perspective with no input from the community,’ Ms Bunting said to the Caymanian Compass.

Among the issues the petitioners want raised at a public meeting are the lack of government incentives to help people afford to buy and install wind, solar and other renewable energy systems; the reduction of carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels; a policy to support and expand the use of renewable energy; laws requiring CUC to use increasing amounts of renewable energy each year; ERA funding; and the election rather than appointment of individuals to the ERA board.

They state that the public has ‘no real and effective voice concerning what CUC does and how much CUC charges for electricity’.

ERA managing director Philip Thomas said the Authority will in the future conduct public forums, but said he could not specify exactly when that would happen.

He added: ‘To meet with hundreds of people is unworkable. What might be workable is for the Minister to call a meeting with representatives of the ERA and CUC present, and perhaps a representative group of six consumers.’

Doug Murray, corporate secretary of CUC, said: ‘Those issues they [the petitioners] have raised are already dealt with or are being dealt with by the ERA, the licence or the legislation. There is nothing that CUC can give them in response to this.’

Under the terms of the licence granting exclusive transmission and non-exclusive generation rights to CUC in April this year, consumer-generated electricity is allowed, and any excess electricity can be sold back to the CUC grid by September this year.

Mr. Murray said any public consultations on energy issues would fall under the remit of the ERA, which regulates the electricity industry in Cayman.

In a follow-up email to their June submission, the petitioners wrote to the government, CUC and the ERA, this month saying: ‘The petitioners, i.e. voters, can only deduce by inference or interpretation from your lack of response that our opinions or financial well-being is of no concern to either CUC or the current elected government officials.

‘As you are the only persons who have knowledge of the initial intentions of the licenses, we thought as a courtesy, a community meeting whereby a CUC representative and the minister responsible for this portfolio would be given an opportunity to address, answer and/or refute any assumptions. Instead, you have chosen to adopt your usual stance to remain silent and hope the problem will go away.’

Minister of Works Arden McLean did not respond to a request for comment on the matter prior to press time.