JPS pledges electricity stability for Santa Cruz

... but former mayor says residents should be compensated for years of bad service

By Garfield Myers
Editor at Large, South Central Bureau

Monday, November 19, 2018

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Santa Cruz , St Elizabeth — For years residents and business operators of this bustling south-central town have had to deal with the debilitating consequences of power outages, sometimes multiple times per day.

But according to electricity supplier, Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), that's a thing of the past.

Norval Bullock, the JPS parish manager for St Elizabeth and Westmoreland, told a recent monthly meeting of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation that service to Santa Cruz had been “reconfigured” so that “load shedding”, which becomes necessary from time to time, would be minimised there.

Bullock said the government's push to drive renewable energy had inadvertently caused problems for Santa Cruz.

“… We have a massive plant in Clarendon but when there is cloud cover and that plant goes suddenly offline, we lose a significant chunk of generation. … Gas turbines have a little lag to come on stream to take up the load. To protect the system from such a condition we automatically shed specific loads.

“Unfortunately, Santa Cruz was connected to a feeder coming from Spur Tree and that was one of the feeders on that protection scheme. We have done some infrastructural work within the parish (St Elizabeth) and we have reconfigured our network, and I am happy to say Santa Cruz is now off of that scheme and since September residents have seen improved reliability performance…,” Bullock said.

He said a mega energy storage facility to “come on stream sometime next year” at Hunts Bay will resolve load shedding issues such as have negatively affected Santa Cruz.

“In the interim,” he said, the load shedding option had been “switched to one of the feeders in Westmoreland… a feeder which has more residential load than commercial activities, because we want to keep our commercial centres powered so that we can drive economic activity…”

Former mayor of Black River and former chairman of the council Everton Fisher, a consistent critic of the JPS over many years, said the company had a responsibility to compensate the people of Santa Cruz for lost business and equipment down the years. This, he argued, should be made easier, since the government had opted to honour a long-standing, multi-billion debt to the electricity provider.

Fisher also accused the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) for doing nothing while Santa Cruz suffered at the hands of JPS over the years.

Quizzed by journalists following the meeting, Bullock emphasised that the planned Hunts Bay power storage plant should serve as a permanent fix for instability caused by load shedding. Meantime, he said, no one community would suffer disproportionately as a result of the load shedding shift from Santa Cruz.

“As part of our protection system there are some loads that we need to, at times, shed for system stability. So yes, it (load shedding option) has been shifted temporarily (from Santa Cruz) to somewhere else… and will rotate overtime so no one area will suffer for any prolonged period,” he said.

According to Bullock “the challenge for Santa Cruz was a unique one stemming from the intermittency of our renewables. so as we put on that new power plant in Hunts Bay next year (to) early 2020, we should be in a better position to mitigate those sort of issues…”

“The load shedding scheme”, he told journalists, “is a comprehensive one, driven by what's available at any given day and the amount of generation we lose…”

In the council meeting, Bullock's presentation was at times interrupted by cross-talk between councillors of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), regarding a recent announcement that government had paid off a long-standing $7-billion debt to the JPS.

Some JLP councillors said that with the debt paid the electricity provider is now better able to serve the public.

But a passionate Fisher (Balaclava Division-PNP) reminded his colleagues that under his leadership (2012-2016) the council had unanimously supported calls for the withholding of payments to the JPS, pending improvement of their service.

In fact, said Fisher, the JPS had “given the people of Jamaica the worst service any company could offer-and this did not happen since (government) owe them; it's from time immemorial...”

With the debts now settled, Fisher said the JPS had a responsibility to compensate the people of Santa Cruz for years of bad treatment.

“I am calling on JPS Co to give back to people who have lost equipment, during this period of time, in and around the area of Santa Cruz,” Fisher said.

The former council chairman accused the OUR of having “sat down and done nothing to protect the poor consumer and the people of Santa Cruz who suffer from power cuts two, three, four times daily…”

Fisher also claimed the JPS should deal with electricity theft by reducing the cost of electricity installation. He said his interaction with constituents had convinced him that many people who now steal electricity “want to get connected in the right way [but] the cost that the contractor charges to wire a house is out if the [reach] of the average small man in this country ...”

While supporting aspects of Fisher's arguments, Mayor of Black River Derrick Sangster said that it was unfair for Fisher to label JPS service as “worse” than any other. Councillor Cetany Holness (Junction – JLP) and Withney Smith (Brompton – JLP) also had encouraging words for JPS.

However, not all JLP councillors were prepared to give JPS the thumbs up.

Councillor for the Santa Cruz Division, Chris Williams (JLP) cited a recent lengthy power cut and said he would wait and see.

“I am not celebrating yet. I am giving it time, I am waiting till December to see what happen”.

George Powell (Lacovia Division – JLP) who lives in Santa Cruz and has bitterly criticised JPS in the past, agreed. “I am not going to celebrate until I see it (electricity stability) continue,” he said.

Regarding the “vexed issue” of street light installation and maintenance, Bullock pledged that, “Between now and Christmas I intend to light every light pole that is out in St Elizabeth … we are on the ball and the parish will be well-lit for Christmas… ”

The parish manager also called for improved relations and communication with councillors in order to resolve problems.

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