Editorial — 05 January 2019
History will not go easy on these two leaders

Former Prime Minister, Hon. Said Musa, and present Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, have presided over a period when our country cannot be considered a tranquil haven. Belizeans, especially those who grew up in a time when murder wasn’t commonplace, hold out hope every time there is a lull in the extreme violence, but it never holds. It just keeps getting worse. Five murders to open 2019. What a disaster!

Forces from outside and weaknesses within have caused difficulties, problems in our world. If we understand correctly how the world works, people elect leaders to solve problems. People don’t want excuses, they want solutions. Our nation has a serious problem with discipline and we have descended into a state of carnage. The buck stops with the leaders. When leaders can’t provide solutions, they have to move (or be moved) from their position of ineptitude to one that more fits their capacity. They applied for and got the job to skin the cat, but really their qualifications are sufficient only for holding the tail.

Only recourse for most of us is to cut electricity usage

BEL’s (Belize Electricity Limited) recent announcement that the company had incurred a huge loss of over $18 million over the last several months, and for that reason it needed a rate increase from the PUC (Public Utilities Commission), sparked a quite interesting response over the holiday weekend. PUC chairman, John Avery, said that BEL had not requested a big enough increase, that the company needed an average rate of 42 cents per kilowatt hour, a half cent more than BEL had requested. Shortly after that the government weighed in, pulling rank on both the PUC and BEL, so to speak, with an “order” that the PUC not encourage BEL with an extra half cent per kilowatt hour. Indeed, GoB suggested that it would be proper for BEL to hold off on any rate increase.

Consumers, of course, want the rate to hold, or decrease. The PUC chairman has suggested that BEL has made projections that are based on hopeful scenarios. We have observed that our national electricity distributor, BEL, has tried to keep costs down for Belizean homeowners and industry. This is a company led by some of the most talented Belizeans, and we have every reason to be proud of them. BEL is professional, considerate, and they are on the ball, going the extra yard to deliver on regular duties and in times of crisis.

The PUC, in suggesting a higher rate per kilowatt hour, might also be considering that shareholders may not be getting the full worth for their investments in the electricity company. And the government must be aware that the pockets of Belizeans are strained to the limit.

It is disappointing for electricity rates to be going up, especially at a time when fuel prices have been going down at the pump. But, fuel prices in Belize have little to no effect on the cost of electricity production.

BEL purchases the electricity it distributes from a number of sources. Its cheapest electricity comes from BECOL, hydro electricity produced in the hills in Cayo. BEL also purchases electricity from the grid in Mexico, from the sugar companies (biomass energy), and a few other sources. BEL has the capacity to generate its own electricity at its plant at Mile 8 on the George Price Highway. This energy is produced by a 44-megawatt gas turbine, which is largely for emergencies because it is expensive to run. BEL supplies electricity to Caye Caulker through the use of diesel generators.

Clearly, BEL doesn’t have control over the cost of the energy it distributes. The cost of the electricity BEL purchases is of concern to Belizeans, but we also have a concern regarding where-from our electricity comes. We have no control over how electricity bought from the Mexican grid is produced, but locally produced electricity is all of our business, as it relates to cost and also as it relates to our environment.

Biomass, burning bagasse to make electrical energy, is very unhealthy for the environment. The New River in Orange Walk is dead proof of the effects on the environment from burning bagasse. The company has to make money, but we can think long-term and consider other uses for this by-product of cane sugar production.

Bagasse can be turned into paper, but maybe its best use is to improve the drainage and aeration of heavy soils, and water retention in sandy soils. If we improve our soils we decrease the cost of producing food and we also reduce the need to cut new forest for farming.

Hydro is the cheapest source of electricity, but it might not be advisable for us to go overboard with it because dams change the environment around which the dam is located in a major way and, because water penned up at a dam is stagnant, there are negative impacts on aquatic life downstream. Small run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects might prove more environmentally acceptable.

Belizeans can produce diesel fuel for generators from crude oil. It will take some number-crunching by our scientists to prove the feasibility of producing our own, but the technology is available.

There is a reason why a nation invests in education. It is so that education can be applied to make things better at home. We might not be doing enough.

In the short term, all we can do is use electricity more efficiently. Our leaders all seem to be in the business of showing us how the wealthy do it. It would be good if our leaders were more austere, less ostentatious.

Of course, there are some in civilian ranks who can afford to be unconcerned about electricity rates. The rest, we have to deal with what is real for us. Seriously, we might have to introduce some military- type discipline in our homes and workplaces to cut down squander of electricity on burning lights when they should be off, and leaving the clothes iron on when it’s not in use.

Another good effort would be pulling the plugs on home appliances at night or when they are not in use. Mother Nature Network at mnn.com says that “vampire energy accounts for about 5 percent of all residential electricity use.”

These other tips from Mother Nature Network are also worth noting: “Instead of unplugging things one at a time, make the job easier with power strips. You can then switch off or unplug the strip to turn all the devices off at once…If you won’t be using your computer and don’t want to shut it down [but why?], turn off your monitor…Whether you consider vampires a threat or not, it’s when things are turned on that they’re consuming the most power, so turn them off even if you don’t unplug!”

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Deshawn Swasey

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