A reliable and cheap supply of electricity is non-negotiable for the development of any country. Not only does it allow for the manufacturing sector to remain competitive, but it provides the much-needed ease of comfort for the populace, both in terms of consistency and the enabling environment for affordable prices on manufactured goods. The provision of this crucial utility service must not be seen as one of a favour; it’s paid for by consumers.
Currently, the Guyana Power & Light (GPL) is trying to execute emergency plans to reduce prevailing outages, which have increased following damage to a submarine cable connecting West Demerara to the City. Prior to the cable being damaged, supply was erratic, with many areas being severely affected, some more than others for varying reasons. This is important to note, given that many consumers feel that the supply became far more unreliable over the past few years.
The context would be useful. Prior to 1992, electricity supply was scarce and almost non-existent in some communities. Then, consumers may have felt that receiving electricity was a luxury. Its return, following the routine prolonged outages, was greeted with rapturous applause by residents. The sporadic supply may have created the environment for celebrations to welcome its surprising reappearance.
The utterly poor service then resulted from collapsed infrastructure following mainly a lack of maintenance. It should also be noted that some parts of the country, like the Essequibo Islands, were either without power, or had it rationed to a few hours per day. It was totally unacceptable, and disgusted consumers had no recourse for an improved service.
The effects were telling countrywide to both the manufacturing sector and citizens; including students, who were forced to seek alternative sources of illumination for their studies. The “jug-lamp” or “flambeau” and soot in the nostrils became common practices.
Following the 1992 elections, in spite of the inherited state of bankruptcy, innovative ways were found through firm commitment to improve the supply of electricity. Throughout the tenure of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Administration, which ended in 2015, much resources were ploughed into that utility company to ensure acceptable and reliable supply. Existing generating stations were retooled, and new ones were built over that period.
The demand drastically grew with every passing year, as thousands of consumers were constantly added to the grid, as their lives were advanced though the enabling environments created. Televisions, microwaves, refrigerators, air-conditioners and other appliances were no longer luxuries, but were routine fixtures as modernisation took over. That meant the need for reliable supply to satisfy the country’s unprecedented economic growth, as areas previously without power and new ones were powered in the process.
While all of the challenges were not resolved, there was a noticeable and positive evolution in the national supply of electricity. Outages were miniscule as reliability vastly increased. However, with a constantly growing demand, fluctuating fuel prices and environmental impact, the eventual solution was in having a much cheaper, cleaner and reliable supply of hydroelectricity. The Amaila Fall Hydroelectric Project was birthed.
Sadly, the then APNU/AFC Opposition refused to lend its support, using its one-seat combined Parliamentary majority to scuttle funding for that most transformative project. Despite the provision of all relevant information, and despite the supply would have been much cheaper and reliable, allowing for lower manufacturing costs, the then Opposition did not budge.
That project would have fitted perfectly into the Low Carbon Development Strategy the country was pursuing at the time; which, through its efforts, Guyana was lauded internationally, with related funding assigned, as in the case of Norway. Had it received the support, today Guyanese would have been reaping the benefits. Had it been supported, GPL would not, in 2019, be searching desperately for emergency mechanism to provide electricity, which is now, sadly, on a scheduled basis.
As it is, manufacturing costs have increased, redounding in higher prices for local products. Consumers are not only saddled with that, but also have to pay a higher bill every month in addition to increased transportation costs. This brings into question what the Government has done to ensure a nationwide reliable supply of electricity since 2015.
As emergency plans are scouted for now, the world’s technological advances continue unabated, with Guyanese becoming more abreast as local related companies flourish. The country is on the cusp of breaking through, with the advent of an oil and gas economy and its population’s technological affinity growing seemingly exponentially.
A reliable supply of electricity cannot therefore be compromised; the country’s future advancement is hinged on that. While the damaged submarine cable may have forced a lengthy response from GPL, outages have been ongoing before, with no holistic solution on the horizon. That therefore makes it extremely worrying for both consumers and the country as a whole.
The burning questions are: what happens after the cable is fixed? Would that end outages? There appears no optimism for the latter, even though an official boasted a year or two ago that blackouts would have ended. Not surprising was the absence of any sense of euphoric celebration to that statement. The current situation may explain why.