Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, Ron Webster yesterday called on all stakeholders to rethink their positions on the Amaila hydro project and support it but it is unclear what the way forward could be as the prospective developer Sithe Global is sticking by its decision to pull out and the main opposition APNU remains against the venture in its current form.
Webster was speaking yesterday at the opening of the two-day National Economic Forum at the Guyana International Conference Centre which also heard other appeals for the project to go ahead.
Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh said the Amaila project is Guyana’s ‘bird in the hand’, and said it would take at least a decade for any of the alternative sites floated by detractors to get to the stage that the current project is at the moment.
Singh said that every day there are businesses that pay more than they should for electricity. He also said that they also have to depend on redundant and backup power. He added that the fact that the businessmen pay more than they should for electricity and have back up power means that their capital is put into energy costs rather than being invested elsewhere.
“We have before us for the first time in our country an achievable solution to this problem in the Amaila project. We have a solution that not only has been studied extensively but has been the subject of much consultation and sharing of information,” he said. “This is a project that has the involvement of one of the world’s [most] eminent institutional investors – the Blackstone Group. This is a project that has the involvement of major development partners – China Development Bank (CDB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), this is a project with unprecedented domestic support,” he said.
Sithe Global, the developer of the Amaila project, on Sunday formally announced that it was exiting the project because of a lack of parliamentary consensus behind two legislative measures passed last week with the support of Government and the Alliance for Change (AFC) but without A Partnership for National Unity. Government is still hoping to salvage the deal.
“I believe that this generation has a responsibility to ensure that we do not miss this chance,” Singh said. He contended that the last time such an opportunity was presented to Guyana, the chance was missed and as a result, the country paid the price of four decades of retarded development.
“We should not condemn the next two generations of Guyanese to similar retardation of development,” he said. “The energy constraint in Guyana must be fixed, the Amaila solution is before us and within our reach, and we must all ensure that we do all that we can to secure this solution,” he said. “It takes years if not decades to put together a project of this magnitude and all of this chatter about alternatives is romanticising,” he said.
“The reality is that there is not an alternative solution that could be accomplished within the next decade, so the question before us is would we like to spend the next decade or two pursuing some option out there instead of seizing the option that is immediate and visible before us,” he said. “We have before us a solution; we have before us a large credible international investor which is committed to supporting the project,” he said. The Minister noted that if ever there was a time when the adage ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ is applicable, this would be that time.
President Donald Ramotar delivering the feature address at the forum’s opening yesterday attempted to resuscitate support for the Amaila Falls Hydroelectric Project, citing the need to “remove the constraints that we are creating for ourselves.”
The President maintained that the main opposition APNU never raised the issues that they are raising now when they had opportunities to do so. “It is a very serious blow. We cannot afford not to have cheap energy,” he said,” said Ramotar. “I hope that this setback could be used as a lesson so that we could have 100 percent support [for other projects that we undertake],” he said.
“We have to work to remove the constraints we are creating for ourselves,” he said, referring as well to the lack of support by the Opposition to debate the money laundering legislation prior to the recess. “We need to hear all voices and it must not be left to politicians alone…we need to hear from every voice in every stratum of society,” he said.
Webster, Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) called for there to be a leap of faith behind the Amaila project. He hit out at what he referred to sarcastically as experts who knew little about power generation and even less about the conversation of kilowatts to megawatts.
“Forgive me for sounding a bit bitter on this issue, but I manage a company with an installed capacity of 4.2 megawatts and I also chair a utility with an installed capacity of 5 megawatts. So I do know something about power generation,” he said.
He said that with Amaila, Guyana would save some US$120 million a year in fuel purchases among other savings. He said that if Blackstone goes through with the investment there would be a magnetic pull factor in attracting other such investors to Guyana.
“I do ask that everyone gives a rethink to this project and support it,” he said.
He said that the savings coming out of the Amaila project with regards to the fuel subsidy could go towards the University of Guyana.
National energy policy
Meanwhile in one of the technical sessions, Professor Suresh Narine called for the crafting of a national energy policy which must be given the blessings of the President and the National Assembly before being implemented.
“The policy should identify short, medium and long term goals for the energy sector,” he said. “It should articulate policy aimed at accomplishing these goals and identify specific investment, regulatory and other steps that need to be taken and articulate the technical, business and social impacts, risks and rewards of each scenario,” said Professor Narine, Director of the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST).
He said that if Government is looking at hydro in the short term then the administration should limit its investment in fossil fuel to what is only strictly necessary. Further, he said that Government should continue to liberalise the energy sector by allowing self generation for businesses in the short term. “This makes sense if we are going to pursue an alternative energy policy,” he said.
“Taxation should be lowered on the importation of generation sets that meet a range of efficiencies and emissions over a time window of one to two years…this will allow Government to be more nimble in adopting more sustainable technologies with as hydro, with less expensive generating costs,” he said.
He said that it was decided at a group session of which he was a part that hydro represented the best option for Guyana presently given the country’s natural patrimony and given the density of energy required.