PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Chairman Bradley Roberts has defended his party’s controversial plan to provide “free” electricity to customers who keep their residential use below certain limits, saying it coincides with the party’s core principle of helping those who need it most.
However, it appears that the specifics of the plan are still being worked out as Mr Roberts said the specific limits will be determined closer to the introduction of the policy.
As reported by The Tribune previously, in the PLP’s Action Plan for Moving Forward Together, which was published on its relaunched website www.myplp.org on Thursday, the party said if elected to office for another term it plans to “make the cost of electricity free to residential customers who limit their monthly use to below specified limits.”
On its website, the governing party says it plans to “cover the cost” of electricity for persons who fall into this category, which will affect “15 per cent to 20 per cent” of lower income households.
However on Thursday, Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) released a statement in reaction to the revelation, saying the information about the PLP’s promise “is unknown to BPL, nor was it provided by the company.”
BPL added: “Our goal at BPL is to provide consistent, reliable and affordable electricity service to our customers, while maintaining a viable operation. We would like to thank our customers for their continued patronage, and we are most appreciative of your support as we execute our mandate and policies that are in the best interest of the people of the Bahamas.”
Mr Roberts said in a statement that the initiative will be “a government-sponsored programme,” and not a BPL one.
“We are already exploring the best ways to implement the policy, for example by using smart cards and prepaid meters,” he said.
He added: “Back in 2012, the PLP promised to lower the cost of electricity. And we have done so: since 2012, electricity costs have been brought down by over 40 per cent.
“Changes are continually being made to bring about improvements which will continue to result in a lowering of electricity costs. Having brought about those changes, we know that economically, things are still tough for many Bahamians. So based on extensive and detailed research, and along with the measures we are currently undertaking, we are now able to propose this new initiative.”
In his statement, Mr Roberts said this initiative will help those who are most needy.
“These are people who are struggling the most, and need assistance in maintaining even a basic level of electricity supply,” Mr Roberts said. “Although specific levels will be determined nearer the time of the introduction of the policy, the customers who will benefit currently pay around $50 per person per month, which covers all basic electricity usage.
“As well as helping Bahamians, this policy also fulfils another strategic priority, which is to encourage energy conservation. So this policy will help to reduce the cost-of-living and the environmental benefits will help the whole country. Set against the costs which have been projected in the economic model, the net benefit to the country is extremely favourable.
“From the research undertaken, we know that those who will be positively impacted under this policy will be able to use electricity at a level which will cover all their basic household necessities,” the PLP chairman said.
When contacted, Free National Movement Deputy Leader Peter Turnquest called the electricity pledge a “desperate and disastrous plan” by a visionless government.
Mr Turnquest also cried shame on Prime Minister Perry Christie for “taking the Bahamian people for fools” and said it is frightening that the government would even propose such a preposterous idea.
“First of all, if they could afford to give away free electricity that means you have been overcharging the Bahamian people for the last five years,” Mr Turnquest told The Tribune.
“Remember Bradley Roberts tried a similar tactic by reducing the base rate and that threw BEC into the loss situation it is in today with no capital and unable to invest in or maintain new engines. This is a disastrous plan by a desperate prime minister.”
The East Grand Bahama MP said if the government really wanted to help Bahamians with the cost of electricity, officials would address fuel prices.
“They need to deal with the cost of fuel and the inefficiencies of the engines,” Mr Turnquest said. “If they want to provide relief, they need to free the noose around Bahamians’ necks with this fuel supply and engage in a true partnership with the operator of Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) to modernise the facility.
“They also need to make the business plan, which we paid for, public and add solar energy to the policy plan. What they are suggesting is desperate and frightening and I cry shame on the prime minister for taking the Bahamian people for fools.”