By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
AS HE blamed rising international gas prices for the escalating cost of electricity in the country, Works Minister Desmond Bannister said Bahamas Power and Light has worked out interim solutions until Bahamians begin to reap rewards from the Shell North America deal.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Bannister refused to go into great detail about burdensome electricity costs and when there could be some relief, but insisted the power provider had been forced to grapple with issues out of its control.
Responding to questions on the issue, he repeatedly told this newspaper to seek explanation from BPL chairman Donovan Moxey, who is slated to make several public appearances in the coming days to address BPL matters.
Attempts were made to reach the chairman yesterday, but these were not successful.
"I think the chairman addressed that issue and he's also going to be on a number of your stations," the minister said when he was asked yesterday if the situation was expected to get a lot worse before it takes a turn for the better.
"It's important and I am going to let him address the issues and I addressed the issue over the weekend.
"What is important to appreciate, and I spoke with a number of colleagues and friends about this over the weekend, we are a very small market. If you look at the price of oil on the international market over the year - last year to now - you'll see how much it has risen and see the intangibles that impact BPL.
"What we are trying to do in the country, notwithstanding the increase, you will see the tremendous improvements that have been made at BPL.
"Those are issues I would like to have the chairman address and he's very, very willing to do so and very, very pleased to do so.
"It's a start over the weekend we are on the way. We signed the MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Shell, we are on the way to seeking some tremendous developments in this country with BPL and I am very, very pleased with what I have seen."
Asked what was expected to happen until the Shell North America deal bears fruit, Mr Bannister said: "As I indicated it is better for you to get the details from the chairman. I don't want to usurp his authority. It's better for him to address these issues.
"BPL has a number of interim solutions that they have already started to put in place and it's important for us to be able to be transparent with them and I am sure that he's going to go into great detail to explain them to the Bahamian people."
He further revealed that insurers are still conducting investigations on the fires which occurred at BPL's power plant at Clifton Pier in September.
"The insurers have their investigators there looking at them and when we have the reports we are going to share them with the country because it's very important for them to know exactly why that occurred and what the problems were."
On Friday, the country was said to be one step closer to lower energy bills and more stable electricity generation with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between BPL and Shell North America for an integrated LNG gas-to-power project.
However, it is not clear whether consumers will feel the impact of the company's transition to liquefied natural gas this term as the project, which features a 220-250 megawatt (MW) power plant is not slated to be completed until the "early 2020's".
Shell officials were also unable to offer any estimates on how much it planned to invest on the project, stating it was too early to tell.
"In terms of starting construction it won't start until after the PPA (power purchase agreement) has been negotiated, all of the environmental studies, impact assessments, environmental plans have been done," Mr Moxey said on Friday. "Everything is done in accordance with the planning and subdivisions act and we follow all those processes.
"And so the hope for us is that we get construction started soon enough so that we can have the plant online by the early 2020's. Our target goal is sometime before or around 2022 but you never know what may delay the project moving forward."
Shell, the project developer and independent power producer, will absorb the costs of developing marine infrastructure, and constructing the gas pipeline, LNG terminal and new power plant, according to Mr Moxey, who said negotiations will now turn to locking down commercial agreements over the supply rate.
Mr Moxey said negotiations over the PPA will likely take around three to four months.