Saturday, May 27, 2006

Important energy-saving initiative

Important energy-saving initiative
published: Saturday | May 27, 2006

WE ENDORSE the initiative by the Government to distribute, free of cost,
an estimated four million energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs as part
of a broader policy of enhancing energy efficiency and saving the
country money.

Indeed, Jamaica, which imports over 90 per cent of its energy needs,
mostly in the form of oil, is one of the countries that has failed to
make substantial efficiency gains in energy consumption despite the
spiralling cost for oil over the past three decades.

For example, between the first oil shock of the 1970s and the 1990s,
developed countries, in general, made efficiency gains of between 30 per
cent and 50 per cent in terms of energy consumed per dollar of output.
In Jamaica's case the gain was in the low double digit, and almost all
of that was accounted for in the bauxite/alumina sector where the
improvement was almost a third. In fact, this gain is one of the factors
that contributed to the movement of Jamaica from near the bottom of the
pile to the mid range of countries as a competitive producer of alumina,
which helped to save the industry.

In general, though, we have consumed energy almost with abandon, which
shows in the country's oil bill that last year reached US$1.33 billion,
an increase of 41 per cent over the previous year. Clearly, we cannot
continue like this, Mr Hugo Chavez's generosity notwithstanding. In that
regard, it is good to see the administration is stirring itself out of
its languor and appears to be thinking seriously about energy efficiency
and the use of alternative energy. Indeed, an energy green paper is on
the table and the Government has put it before a parliamentary committee
and has invited comment.

Many people, however, will remain cynical, having grown from experience
not to trust such stirrings. They have been there before.

Nonetheless, the fluorescent initiative is, on the face of it, a good
one, but there is an issue.

These bulbs which, ironically, are gifts from Cuba, manufactured in
China by a U.S. company, have an estimated retail value of over $2
billion. The retail market for energy-saving lights are not yet up to
that value, but many private sector firms do in fact sell such fixtures.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that the administration did not sort out
how its initiative would affect these firms before moving ahead. For
there is a real issue of what is to become of the inventories held by
these firms in the face of the Government's give away.

Hopefully, the administration will seek to deal with this and other
related matters before it moves on, no matter how tempted it and the
Energy Minister, Mr Phillip Paulwell, might be tempted to don the
clothes of Santa Claus early in the summer.

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