Minister of Energy Kerrie Symmonds has accused critics of Government’s approach to expanding the renewable energy sector and amendments to electricity legislation of trying to stir up strife and engaging in “a whole lot of hullabaloo” and “partisan rancour”.
While he did not call names, his comments were a clear swipe at the President of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers (BAPE) Lieutenant Colonel Trevor Browne, attorney-at-law and utility regulation specialist Tricia Watson, and leader of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Dr Ronnie Yearwood who have publicly knocked the legislative and other changes.
Symmonds did not mince words as he chided the critics for not having the interest of the country at heart, in their analysis.
Speaking in the House of Assembly on Friday, he argued that their criticisms of the Bill and the expansion of the renewable energy sector have been nothing more than “unnecessary posturing” and “political partisan rancour”.
“I feel it is my duty, not only on behalf of the Government but the country as a whole, to come to this place and from the very start try to give some context to what has really been a lot of irrational babbling with respect to what is taking place in this House today, and the Electric Light and Power Act and the amendment made to the Act,” said Symmonds, as he led off debate on the Electric Light and Power (Amendment) Bill.
Stressing that he did not intend to get into any back and forth with anyone on the matter, he called for the situation to “settle down because we are too small and the global circumstances are too challenging for us to feel that we can ever survive if we create unnecessary strife and civil war between the utility and the populace of Barbados”.
At the same time, the Energy Minister said he was not prepared to sit back and allow there to be another divide among Barbadians, similar to what had taken place in access to technology, the tourism industry and the global business sector, where there are clear stories of “those who have and those who have not”.
“I have heard with my ears and seen written that this same man who comes from the bowels of our society can say that the renewable energy effort is nothing but a Ponzi scheme,” said Symmonds, in obvious reference to a statement penned by by Lt Col Browne earlier this year.
Stressing that the renewable energy sector was crucial to the island’s development, Symmonds contended that many of the critics’ interventions so far have been “almost by way of a knee-jerk reaction, a kind of ‘gotcha’ approach to politics”.
“There is another one who runs her mouth very liberally in this country and she is all about narrow self-interest,” the Minister added as he continued his tongue lashing.
The area of contention in the Electric Light and Power (Amendment) Bill was Section 5A (6) that critics said would curtail public discourse or involvement in Government’s issuing of licences in the sector.
The initial amendment stated that “for the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this section entitles an interested party to have access to the application of any applicant for a licence”.
However, that was subsequently changed to read: “Nothing in this section entitles an interested party to have access to information in the application of an applicant where: (a) the applicant requests, in accordance with subsection (7), that the information be kept confidential; and (b) the Minister, after consultation with the Committee, determines that there is merit in the request and grants the request”.
Admitting that the change was necessary, Symmonds said the legislation was intended for two main reasons – to facilitate intervenors and objectors, and to ensure fairness on all sides.
“To the extent that there was the possibility of interpretations of a different type, we have pulled the legislation, we have redrafted it so as to put it beyond doubt and make it pellucidly clear that this Government is only interested in the advancement of the wellbeing of this sector, in the advancement of the wellbeing of the stakeholders’ interests – utility and non-utility,” he insisted.
The change to the contentious section had followed outcry by several interested parties, including Watson, an intervenor in the upcoming Barbados Light & Power Company’s (BLPC) rate hearing, who recently described the proposed amendment as “going completely against the tenets of public law, and completely unfair and egregious from any perspective you look at it”.
The President of the DLP had also raised concern about the initial Bill proposed last month, saying it would severely limit the rights of Barbadians to object to or express concern about any application for a licence to supply electricity in Barbados, whether it is the BLPC or any other company.
Meanwhile, Lt Col Browne had also expressed concern about the slow pace and seeming lack of a solid implementation plan for more rapid expansion of the renewable energy sector.
He had warned that if certain steps were not taken, the buildout of the sector could become another Ponzi scheme.
“At present, the Barbados energy trajectory is exactly like that followed by Spain. It is also very similar to our experiences with CAHILL and Four Seasons. Those who can afford to, and even some who can’t, are jumping headlong into the ‘vision’ without any clear plan of what the final result will look like. This is a dangerous error,” he said in May.
However, in a stinging rebuke during his approximately one-and-a-half-hour presentation in the Lower House of Parliament, Symmonds said: “I only ask that these people who want to be critics be fair to the facts and be faithful to the facts and stop prostituting themselves for the purposes of undermining the interests of working-class people in this country”.
“That is all I say to those who are pregnant with intent to put up domestic resistance to one of the most progressive approaches being taken to renewable energy,” he added.
Singling out Government’s Home Ownership Providing Energy (HOPE) project, which is designed to allow people in that scheme to earn from solar photovoltaic systems on their roofs, Symmonds said this was a policy unique to Barbados.
“You can’t be two-mouthed on these matters. You can’t on one hand be the person intervening to put licks in the Government and obstacles in the path of poor people and at the same time you are an agent of the same utility you are always finding fault with,” he said.