The president and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company Kelly Tomblin has been in the news expressing concern on the financial state of the company. She was even on the front page of the Daily Observer some time ago with the headline: JPS facing death.
Kelly Tomblin is a breath of fresh air to the company. Appointed to the CEO position in 2012, she knew she was entering a hostile environment, with JPS being public company enemy number 1. In that context she faced the competition head on and has done some remarkable things in a short time. She is changing the company's culture, is out among her troops with a power saw, setting up a energy shop, on income-generating runs, publicly assigning her troops to the parishes, urging better customer relations, and tackling the stealing of electricity and the "freeness mentality" of many Jamaicans.
But we need to be concerned about the health of the JPS, as Jamaica owns nearly a 20 per cent share of the company. Kelly Tomblin staked out the company problem of debt -- with some lender covenants being broken by the company -- and the huge theft of electricity by both small and big. Add to that a huge fine by the OUR -- the organisation that owes its financing to a cess from the JPS and the other utilities! The irony is that when people who have been having 'free light' for years loose that benefit, they will describe the company as being "wicked". This is the cultural problem the company and Jamaica must face.
The public has been fed a number of myths from various sources. Here are some of them.
Myth No 1: JPS rates are among the highest in the region. The Caribbean rate schedules published (mid 2011) by CARILEC the Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corporation, which serves the regional territories, shows the JPS rates as being mid way on the scale.
Myth No 2: Lowered electricity rates are on the immediate horizon. This is not true, and whether it is stated by the minister or the head of the PSOJ makes no difference. Greater efficiency can help, but a new power plant -- some years away -- are key elements in that equation.
Myth No 3: Breaking up the JPS will be good for Jamaica. Citizens United for the Reduction of Electricity's (CURE) court victory is a pipe dream.
Myth No 4: We can be fully independent of the JPS. For the average householder or business operation, such attempts will cost the proverbial arm and a leg. Yes, it may be possible to reduce the bill and be largely independent for daytime operations, but there will come a time when a utility backup is necessary. One concern is the fact that storage systems (mainly the common battery) is at a technological plateau, so that the power generated in sunlight or with wind has to be stored for darkness or stillness. In addition solar systems have their problems too.
We have to recognise that any reduction of our light bill will require expenditure and two critical personal action initiatives and lifestyle changes:
Expenditure will have to be made on more efficient lighting devices, eg fluorescent bulbs, energy-efficient equipment, or even solar or wind systems
A conscious effort will have to be made to adopt a more disciplined social and operational lifestyle.
It is clear that Kelly Tomblin is a determined, innovative and tough JPS CEO. She is committed to partner with Jamaica in making energy more efficient and less costly. We need to wish her well I for one do so.
University of Technology, Jamaica