Should we sell Barbados Light & Power to the Canadians?
Good for Barbados, or selling the family silver?
by West Side Davie with Cliverton
Independence Day is a fitting time for Bajans to consider the difference between dreams and goals, and the difference between blind celebration and a grounded perspective on reality. For too long we have celebrated November 30th with much flag waving and remembrance of the heady days of the 1960’s – but little serious consideration given to where the good ship Barbados is sailing now and how the machinery is holding up.
We dance and sing about how we love the ship and what a good ship it is (and it is too!) – but I fear we’ve been putting off some needed maintenance and refitting because it’s easier and cheaper to slap on a coat of paint and say “It still looks good!”
Indeed, it could be said that Independence Day has become somewhat of a coat of paint administered annually to make us feel good about ourselves. Or, perhaps Independence Day is like a shot of rum for the masses so they won’t notice that we’ve just mortgaged another part of the ship to keep food on the table and fuel in the tanks.
Friends, if you borrow money to put food on the table and fuel in the tank, you’ll soon lose your ship as you sell it off piece by piece while the machinery deteriorates for lack of care.
And that is why I approach Emera’s offer to purchase 100% of Barbados Light & Power with some trepidation and perhaps some guilt too.
On the bad side of this deal, once it’s gone we’ll never own it again. But that observation begs the question, do “we” really own it now?
And, does the Emera purchase mean that our nation will be at the mercy of foreign interests when it comes to power generation and pricing? I’m not so sure that isn’t already the case.
An article in the Globe and Mail speculates that if Emera takes full operational control of Light & Power there could be “cost savings stemming from Emera’s expertise.” That’s probably true, but it’s also true that Bajans won’t see any of that money unless they are Emera shareholders.
The Emera purchase is about shareholder value and future profits, not about doing something nice for Barbados.
My hope is that Emera will bring operational efficiencies, knowledge and new technologies to Barbados that will increase the reliability of service for consumers. That’s all I can hope for. I’m not fool enough to think that power prices will go anywhere but up no matter who owns the system.
Can we ever be truly independent when it comes to power?
A few years ago I read an article that claimed in North America something like 40% of the generated power is lost in transmission over the power grid. The author argued for smaller “neighbourhood” power generation capabilities, saying that bigger isn’t always better and that distributed generation closer to users would produce major cost savings.
The article showed a cluster of “off the grid” homes that relied upon wind and sun for basic needs but cranked up a shared generator when demand dictated some additional help was needed. I’m not convinced that shared local generation model is really viable with today’s technology, and I know that if it was you can bet Barbados Light and Power wouldn’t be publicizing it.
As for Emera, I don’t think it really matters who owns the power generation and distribution system in Barbados. We will never be truly “independent” until we are self-sufficient in energy – and that, my friends, cannot happen with the current technology.
But that shouldn’t stop us from Living Smaller, using less energy, conserving and seeking alternative sources for our homes.
Our quest for power mirrors our country’s quest for independence.
When we talk about energy, the question is “How do you define, “energy self-sufficient”? If that is truly the goal, we’ll never make it.
But we can do better.
When we talk about Barbados being “Independent”, we have to ask ourselves what we mean by that. Certainly begging from China and the EU doesn’t make us “fully independent”.
On this Independence Day, I’m going to think about what the word “Independence” truly means, and what I want it to mean for Barbados.
I’ll let you know if I come to any conclusions.
(Give thanks to West Side Davie for the draft and Clive for the editing and additional words)