Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) is in crisis... ...The dysfunctional state of the corporation is having harmful effects on The Bahamas... ...And now BEC’s debt burden could hurt the country’s credit rating

BEC and the government’s debt position

The Nassau Guardian Editorial

The Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) is in crisis. It has a quarter of a billion dollars in debt the government has to back, it may lose $50 million this year and it is unable to provide enough power to keep the lights on in the high-demand summer season.

Successive political administrations have made all kinds of decisions over the last decade that have brought BEC to its knees. The dysfunctional state of the corporation is now increasingly having harmful effects on The Bahamas.

The high cost of power produced by BEC serves as a large across-the-board tax on Bahamians, increasing the cost of goods and services. The summer blackouts inconvenience businesses and homeowners. And now BEC’s debt burden could hurt the country’s credit rating.

Moody’s is warning the government that rising debt held by public sector corporations such as BEC could hurt the country’s rating going forward. According to its latest credit opinion, The Bahamas retains its negative outlook due to the difficulty in achieving fiscal consolidation necessary to stabilize debt and increase revenue in the short term. A failure to reverse the recent trend of rising debt will place downward pressure on the country’s future rating, the report added, particularly with the “crystallization” of liabilities held by BEC.

The Bahamas’ bond rating was downgraded to Baa1 from A3 last December.

The government says it has 60 energy proposals before it and it is in the process of reviewing those proposals. One of those proposals is from SGI Global Holdings Ltd. It is represented by attorney John Bostwick and thinks a power barge concept makes far more sense than any of the other energy proposals before the government.

Executives from the firm have drafted a proposal arguing it could slash the average cost of electricity from $0.40 per kilowatt-hour to $0.28 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in the first year if allowed to enter the marketplace. In year seven, the international firm says it could reduce the cost of electricity to $0.25 per kWh.

At some point, the government has to make a decision on the “major change” it will create in the local energy sector. The status quo is a barrier to economic growth, an annoyance to the public and it harms the Bahamian credit position.

If private firms are able to enter the market and assist the government by providing energy at lower rates than BEC, why not quickly move to allow private firms to assist?

We are at the end of the first year of this Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) term. It went by quickly. Despite all the talk thus far about BEC and energy, under the PLP BEC continues to spiral. A paradigm shift is needed in the Bahamian energy sector.

If the PLP waits too long to decide on this change The Bahamas will be further harmed, more money will be wasted and the change desired may not take effect until after the next general election, as energy plants take time to set up.

We hope the Cabinet understands that success in bringing down the cost of power is as much a priority now as our crime and unemployment problems.

April 20, 2013