Blackouts have become so much a part of life in Guyana that citizens are often hard pressed to remember a time when there were no power outages; it requires thinking way back for people who are over 35 years old, while those who are younger cannot, as they would have experienced blackouts all of their lives. This is an indictment on those in authority and one for which the Guyanese people deserve an apology, which they will never receive.
It must be something in their ideology but politicians are mostly prideful, while the Guyanese species completely lacks humility. They cannot be criticized in any form or for any reason because unlike normal people, they are never wrong. It makes one wonder. On December 12, the Government Information Agency (GINA) issued a press release in which it quoted Prime Minister Samuel Hinds as saying that any Guyanese who feels the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) is burdening them, has the right to generate their own electricity. The release said the PM was responding to a statement made by A Partnership for National Unity’s, General Secretary, Joseph Harmon that the power company should “find ways to reduce tariff [and] get off Guyanese backs.”
There was nothing earth-shattering in what Mr Harmon expressed and he could have been speaking for the entire population, were the entire population to be honest and confess that they are utterly fed up with the unreliability of the electricity supply and with the high cost of that unstable electricity. It is contemptible that in 2014, citizens are still faced with unexplained blackouts and voltage surges that damage equipment and cause fires, compounded with the pomposity of being told to try doing it yourself and see if you can do it better.
Citizens know that they can self-generate and many do, particularly businesses, some of whom have installed generators at extremely high cost driving up their overheads and affecting their bottom line as well as making their products more expensive. But to the average citizen who has had to invest in voltage stabilizers to protect equipment, is constantly replacing burnt fuses, and has the repairman on speed dial, it is an affront.
The vagaries of the local power company have been well ventilated over the years, including its short-lived life under private management and its name change, none of which made much difference; it is still unable to generate enough electricity of a decent quality to supply the needs of consumers on the grid. That is the crux of the matter. That is what consumers have complained about ad nauseam.
Not that there have not been improvements over the years; those have also been well documented. But there has not been a solution; the company has not reached the stage where it can say definitively that there will be no more blackouts or voltage fluctuations, and perhaps it never will.
The Prime Minister, in his attempt to counter Mr Harmon’s statement, referred to the proposed Amaila Falls hydropower dam—the opposition had voted against funding for this project—as if it would have been up and running today. According to GINA, the Prime Minister said: “if we had gone to Amaila (hydropower project), we would be having generation cost which will be averaging in the order of 10 cents per kilowatt per hour rather than 22 cents per kilowatt per hour, and we would have been able to halve our generation cost.” This is disingenuous to say the least. The road to Amaila is not yet finished and the fiasco that attended that is one for the record books. At the time the project was being sold to Guyanese as the answer to all our electricity woes, what was said was that “Construction of the hydro facility and electrical interconnection is anticipated to begin in late 2013. It will take approximately four years to complete.” Which means that we would have been right where we are at the moment, only perhaps millions poorer. It is also worth noting that not a single local infrastructure project has ever been completed on time, and Amaila Falls would have been no different.
What is clear is that government failed to undertake a comprehensive study of the electricity sector prior to building new housing developments which were added to an already overburdened grid. The rural electrification programme offered many communities that had never been electrified the opportunity to have lights and it was an excellent undertaking, but the possibility exists that it might have been more cost effective in the long run to have those communities go solar instead.
In fact, if low-carbon development was really in focus, the many buildings that this government constructed (schools included) since it launched that strategy in 2009 should have reflected that, by being built for solar power or some other form of natural energy. In fact, Guyana could have been a model for real low-carbon development. There has been a total lack of foresight in this sector and those within whose mandate it falls also lack the humility to admit that they might have been wrong and could have done things differently.