Energy and Transport Minister presents goals during the House of Assembly Resolution

(BIS Photos/Anthon Thompson)

Energy and Transport Minister, the Hon. JoBeth Coleby-Davis presented portfolio goals during the House of Assembly Resolution Thanking Governor General for Speech from the Throne, October 30, 2023.

Presentation Excerpt:

In the Speech from the Throne, our Government outlined its agenda. A clear focus and vision were presented to drive the agenda to improve our society for the benefit of all Bahamians.

As the Minister of Energy and Transport, I wish to take this opportunity to address some crucial matters within my portfolio.

As we look forward to our commitment to climate change, we must recognize the critical intersection between energy and transportation. It’s important to acknowledge that both sectors are the largest contributors to Greenhouse Gas emissions in The Bahamas. However, through the electrification of vehicles and the promising future of hydrogen-powered commercial vehicles, we can envision a sustainable path forward. These innovative technologies offer the potential to significantly reduce emissions, decrease our carbon footprint, and lead us toward a more environmentally responsible and resilient future.

Madam Speaker,
A recent status report on road safety indicates that the number of fatal road traffic accidents is on the rise.  To date, there have been 46 road traffic fatalities – an increase of 4 compared to the same period in 2022. The number of fatalities involving females rose from 6 in 2022 to 12 in 2023. The number of fatal traffic accidents involving motorcycles jumped from 4 to 8. These observations are quite disturbing.

As Minister with responsibility for Transport, I continue to urge Bahamians to slow down and to drive with extreme caution.

I take this opportunity to advise that the Road Traffic Act is under
review. Any amendment will prioritize improving road safety and modernizing the Road Traffic Department. In short order, my Ministry and the Road Traffic Department will announce several new initiatives. These programmes will feature multiple projects, including the erection of billboards in strategic locations throughout our country to promote and encourage road safety.

In the coming days, we will announce – in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, Technical and Vocational Training, the Ministry of Public Works and Family Island Affairs, and Baha Mar – the Calvin Morley Jr. Safe School Zone Initiative.

Named in memory of Calvin Morley Jr, a resident of Podoleo Street and a student at C. H. Reeves High School, who was struck and killed as he attempted to cross Robinson Road in 2012; the strategic imperatives of the programme are to:

1. Improve road safety in school zones,
2. Increase and establish the visibility of pedestrian crossings,
3. Use new solar technology in outfitting pedestrian crossings, and
4. Encourage a culture of respecting all road users.
The initiative will seek to bring about an improvement in pedestrian crossings, signs, and technology in school zones. The pedestrian
crossings will feature a rapid flashing beacon system with push button activation. The bright flashing LED beacon system is part of the solar traffic safety series and will be used to alert drivers of upcoming pedestrian crosswalks.
I also wish to advise that in the coming weeks, we will be engaging with taxi drivers and jitney owners and drivers on changes in their respective industries. I understand the concerns and wish to inform all stakeholders that we are focused on “getting it right.”

Madam Speaker,
I also stand before you today as the Minister of Energy to address a critical issue that our nation faces – the crisis in the electricity sector. This crisis is not merely a challenge; it is an urgent call to action.

I am here to present a comprehensive plan that will not only address the current issues but also pave the way for a brighter and more sustainable energy future for our nation.

After weeks of thorough assessments, I have come to fully understand the depth of the energy crisis facing our nation. However, I assure you that I am not just committed to changing this reality; I am already taking actions to fulfill this administration’s mandate to drive long-lasting change for all Bahamians.

In the past weeks, my team and I have engaged in extensive research, numerous meetings, and most importantly, conversations with those who experience the reality of this crisis firsthand – Bahamian households and business owners.

I have spoken with many Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) employees in their respective fields who advised me that one of the best investments possible is to better train and recruit young Bahamians. I have also met with those in positions of decision-making at BPL who are working diligently to improve the situation.

Madam Speaker,
I have spoken with so many people during these days because we need everyone on board and to have a broad understanding of the issues.
Better and more affordable electricity is not just a possibility; it is our mandate, and we will make it a reality during this administration.
The stakes are high, but so is our commitment to fulfill our mandate to the benefit of all Bahamians: those who believe in our promises when facing the polling stations and all those who still have hope in our country’s future and the government’s drive for change.

To this end, I am founding my work on four pillars. These pillars are:
1. Protecting of our most vulnerable citizens,
2. Reforming of Electricity Governance Structure,
3. Re-energizing of Bahamas Power & Light (BPL), and
4. Transitioning to cheaper and cleaner energy generation sources.

These pillars represent the principles that will guide our plans in the short, medium, and long term.

Madam Speaker,
Our First Pillar is to protect our most vulnerable citizens. To uphold this philosophy, we must guarantee that our energy policies not only cover expenses but also shield at-risk households. For these reasons, Madam Speaker, we will implement a social tariff by reducing the cost of the first 200kWh for residents. This will lower bills for all residents, but it will be particularly impactful for those of modest means.

Additionally, we will educate consumers on how to control their energy usage. An awareness campaign focused on energy consumption and efficiency is crucial in our efforts to safeguard our most vulnerable citizens. We need to educate and raise awareness about household practices that can collectively reduce the burden on our energy infrastructure, lower bills, and ultimately create space for us to enhance our system’s resiliency.
In other countries, access to and utilization of energy are considered fundamental rights.

Our goal is to align with this principle.

Madam Speaker,
The Second Pillar comprises a much-needed reform of the
electricity sector governance structure. The lack of clarity in the sector’s governance is not fully conducive to cultivating a high-performance culture in the energy sector. The roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders must be clearly defined for accountability and decision-making. The energy sector is complex, with numerous actors, but we currently lack a structured framework for strategic planning.

As Energy Minister, one of my mandates is to bring organization and efficiency. We will re-define sector governance through an amendment to the Electricity Act of 2015, establishing clear roles in Direction, Planning, Regulation, Operation, and Control.

We will also present a comprehensive long-term Energy Plan, one to be embedded in an updated Energy Policy. I am confident it will provide a roadmap for all stakeholders to follow. Updating this policy is a
mandate by the Electricity Act since 2015, yet we have not updated it since it was enacted back in 2010. We need a policy that provides a roadmap for all actors to follow a single North Star: to supply cost-effective, reliable, and resilient energy throughout The Bahamas.

Madam Speaker,
Our Third Pillar is on BPL; we are re-energizing it. The backbone of BPL’s current crisis is its high debt. To solve this reality, we first need to clarify its numbers and understand what actions are compounding its increase. There needs to be an audit of BPL’s supply chain to understand its total debt obligations and other financial arrears to various entities.

The audit should also include an analysis of all rental contracts, including energy generation, vehicle, and ancillary equipment at BPL. While these business arrangements have been instrumental in helping us keep our lights on, a broader discussion is warranted on the cost and terms under which we engage in these services.

Our insignia company must become an efficient utility provider, one able to deliver cost-effective, reliable, and resilient energy.

To ensure broad participation in our promised change, I am considering appointing a BPL elected staff member as an observer on the Board of Directors. We trust our BPL employees’ unique expertise to play a pivotal role in this transformation.

As we move forward, we must also understand how decisions made have resulted in unintended consequences for the viability and sustainability of BPL. For example, the voluntary separation process (VSEP) in 2018 resulted in an immediate significant reduction of degreed and experienced engineers. 

I am also exploring the option of a ‘Whistle-blower programme.’ The programme will draw from the best practices and successful examples from around the world to provide a safe platform for those who are
reluctant to come forward due to fears of retaliation. To the employees
at BPL, I want to convey this message today: “We have been listening to all of you. We are here to support you in effecting the necessary changes and amendments”.

Accountability is essential, and this government will take responsibility for establishing transparent and ambitious targets. BPL is a valuable
Bahamian asset, and it exists to serve all Bahamians. We must view BPL beyond the realm of politics; it should not be treated as a political asset!

It serves as the utility provider for most Bahamians, and therefore, its management should be free from political fluctuations. To ensure that we maintain accountability, BPL will be required to enter into a Performance Agreement with the Government and, thus the Bahamian people.

Madam Speaker,
While we are all frustrated by the current high electricity bills, it has not been all doom and gloom at the Corporation. My colleague and the
former Minister of Works, Hon. Alfred Sears, the Board, and CEO Shevonn Cambridge and his executive team have been working to improve the situation at BPL.
Some of the recent achievements of the Board, CEO and his executive team include:
1. Re-instating core training programmes – linesman, craftsman, and technician training,
2. Apprentice programmes,
3. Re-claiming operations and management of Station A at Clifton Pier Power Station,
4. Reducing operational costs, and
5. Significant improvements in union relations through the resolution of longstanding grievances and the closing of the senior union
industrial agreement.
I want to sincerely acknowledge the contributions and the heavy lifting done by my colleague, the MP for Fort Charlotte, the Board, and the executive team. Significant work remains, and I am committed to the tasks ahead.

Madam Speaker,
There has been much concern about the manner of BPL’s decision to engage Wartsilia in 2018. I believe wholeheartedly that the Bahamian public
deserve and are entitled to the full facts. As I lay on the table of this House, a report from BPL’s CEO, I wish to pose the following questions,
1. What prevented BPL from conducting a competitive process to contract rental generation to replace ‘Station C’ after the fire in 2018?
2. Do we consider the terms to be favourable to The Bahamas and in line with industry standards? And,
3. Why was the contract amended to add more generators in a
building acknowledged at the time of the decision as structurally incapable of bearing such weight?

To be clear, I am advised that the budgeted cost for the project was $96.9 million. However, the cost to date is $117.9 million – a cost overrun of some $21 million. It is important to note that this figure continues to grow with no clear end in sight as many serious issues continue to come to light.
By tabling this report, Bahamians can assess the situation for themselves. We have a clear mandate and commitment to get BPL back on track, and with your support, we are going to make it happen!

To our vendors, please note that moving forward, all new contracts and possible consideration of renewal of existing contracts will be scrutinized and negotiated to the most advantageous position for The Bahamian people. This will include the review of existing contracts to ensure that all contractual obligations are being met. Deficiencies will be noted and brought in line with contract terms and conditions.

Madam Speaker,
Our Fourth and final Pillar encompasses our plan to initiate the transition to cleaner fuels while building a more resilient energy system.
Transitioning to cleaner, more efficient fuels is pivotal for The Bahamas, positioning us as a regional leader in the energy transition. We’re at a crucial juncture and embracing evolving clean energy technology is essential to meet Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.
Our administration is actively exploring renewable energy solutions, including solar and LNG, for a greener and more cost-effective future. We’ll tailor our energy solutions to our islands’ specific challenges and capabilities, acknowledging that one size doesn’t fit all.

We’re committed to sustainability. Collaboration with the Prime Minister’s Unit for Green Finance and the Ministry of Works is underway to develop our investment attraction strategy for COP28.

A few points to note:
• Securing concessional funds is vital to accelerate renewable deployment and enhance energy infrastructure resilience across our islands. We’ll work with BPL to facilitate easier adoption of solar systems, alleviating high electricity costs for families and businesses.
• Collaborating with The Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) to ensure investors comply with Environmental, Social, and Governance policies. We’re transitioning from words to actions, involving all stakeholders.
• Emphasizing that there is no complete autonomy in the decision-making process, we will adopt a systematic and highly strategic approach. All negotiations, including ongoing ones, will be managed exclusively by the Energy Committee, under my chairmanship, ensuring a disciplined and well-coordinated approach to our energy initiatives.

This commitment to effectively lower energy costs, combined with the integration of renewable energy, will cement a legacy of change for future generations.

Madam Speaker,
We will adopt an overall approach that is data-driven and results-oriented. Our strategy will prioritize collaboration and partnerships.
I will actively engage with business owners, particularly small business owners, to understand how the Ministry of Energy can best support their growth and development. Importantly, this engagement will include business owners from all our family islands.

One of the projects that my team will work on in the coming weeks is the develop a system to bring electricity in a safe way to the vendors at Potter’s Cay Dock. Members would recall that in 2021, a fire destroyed six stalls and two boats. We believe that bringing electricity from BPL will assist in transforming the area. My Ministry will partner with the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources to make this happen. 

I am also pleased to announce that in the upcoming days, following a review by the Energy Committee and BPL, the Ministry of Energy and Transport will issue a tailored Request for Proposals (RFPs) specifically designed for the Family Islands. This approach will encourage innovation and address the unique challenges faced by the Family Islands. The RFP will specifically request Hybrid Models that combine cleaner energy generation solutions with renewable sources.

In addition, we will pursue a similar course of action here in New Providence as we continue to evaluate and understand our overall energy requirements.

Madam Speaker,
As I take my seat, I recognize the substantial work ahead in the energy and transport sectors, including adopting Electric Vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen-powered commercial vehicles as part of our energy strategy.

We’ve achieved significant progress in the last two years, but our commitment to delivering for the Bahamian people remains unwavering.
In the face of indisputable climate change, we must establish a resilient energy system capable of withstanding increasingly severe weather events.
The Speech from The Throne has outlined our forward-looking plans, and we are rejuvenated as we move ahead.

We are fully aware that our mission is to uplift Bahamians while implementing a new energy strategy centered on “Always Affordable, Always Available”.

On behalf of the good people of Elizabeth, I support this resolution.
Thank you.