The Barbados Consumer Empowerment Network (BCEN) and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) are adding their voices to a growing number of Barbadians who are incensed about the Barbados Light and Company’s (BL&P) proposed rate increase in electricity cost.
In fact, the BCEN, which is headed by interim Executive Director Maureen Holder, criticised as “unconscionable” and “unacceptable” for the EMERA-owned BL&P company to be asking for a rate increase “at a time when many Barbadians are facing hardship and all manner of dire economic and financial circumstances”. While the leader of the DLP, Dr. Ronnie Yearwood, condemned the move as “oppressive” and charged that both the FTC and the Minister of Energy have “undoubtedly failed everyone who lives and works in this country”.
Last week the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) announced it had granted the BL&P’s request for an interim rate increase, but the regulatory body only granted 50 per cent of what the utility company had requested. This decision was made after the FTC began hearings on the matter this past July. The FTC’s decision does not sit well with the BCEN which, via a statement released today, took issue with how the matter concerning the application for a rate increase by the island’s main electricity supplier, has been approached.
Throwing its full support behind the intervenors who are asking for due process and careful consideration on the hearing of the matter to determine whether BL&P should be granted the increase, the Network maintained that consumers of Barbados deserve reliable, reasonably priced electricity. However, they believed that with the increase, albeit interim at 50 per cent, consumers will be compelled to pay higher electricity rates at a cost they could barely afford, while the risks to BL&P will remain relatively low.
“There seems to be a disconnect from the reality faced by consumers all over Barbados and the internal corporate affairs of the BL&P and its parent company EMERA,” BCEN stressed.
Similarly, Yearwood contended that despite the word “interim” being attached to the “ill-timed hike”, the results could be anything but interim. Moreover, he chided FTC’s decision and warned that it will only add to Barbados’ economic woes, potentially leading to some businesses laying off staff and/or the closing of other businesses.
“The reality is that electricity powers the country so this rate increase will mean higher prices at the supermarket and other bills such as water, internet, cellphone and even banking fees could be affected!” he asserted.
At the same time, the consumer advocacy body called out the business community, which has remained relatively silent on the increase in rates given that it runs the risk of escalating already soaring operating costs and further cutting into profit margins. The repercussions of which potentially have an additional ripple effect on consumers.
“We are therefore calling on the business community to speak up and speak out on this serious issue. We are also calling on the general public of Barbados to voice their concerns on the interim rate increase. Over the years Barbadians have struggled with unreasonably high utility rates and chronic underinvestment in utility infrastructure provided by the BL&P. Lower electricity rates for consumers are what we really want in Barbados, but outside of this, we believe that a rate increase at this time is not good for the economy of Barbados nor for consumers. BCEN believes that with unity, determination, and solidarity, as Barbadians, we can rally our support to show our disapproval of a rate increase for the BL&P and agitate to see more affordable and sustainable electricity rates in Barbados,” BCEN underscored. (KC)