By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
NASSAU, Bahamas – Hundreds of residents gathered on Wednesday for a march through downtown Nassau that ended with a public protest in Parliament Square, primarily over a rise in electricity prices in The Bahamas, along with a few other matters of public concern in relation to the current Free National Movement (FNM) administration.
The crowd, which was largely peaceful, chanted slogans and jeers as the parliament sat in session across the street for their scheduled session in the Lower House.
The protest organizer, Maria Daxon, explained that this was an important day to tell the current administration how they felt about a recent rise in electricity prices, which she feels was inexplicable and without warning.
The protest also garnered support from a member of the sitting administration, Member of Parliament for Pineridge in Grand Bahama, Frederick McAlpine, who has been a consistent critic of his colleagues in the FNM and said that he hopes his colleagues on his side of the aisle see how serious the people are and how they feel about what’s been going on in general.
Some other protestors also took the time out to chant anti-government slogans, wanting current prime minister, Dr Hubert Minnis and his ministers to step down or make living less costly. Others chanted anti-value added tax slogans in addition to voicing their concerns about investment deals that they feel are “dubious” in nature.
Over the last week consumers have been noticing a sharp rise in the cost of their electricity bills, which some say have increased upwards of 60 percent over their previous billings.
The concerns over the inexplicable increases prompted the Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) board and senior executives to make the rounds on the local media circuits, explaining that the overall cost for electricity has not increased as claimed, neither has there been an approved rate increase implemented in the absence of public notification, nor is there one planned for the future by BPL – a process that needs the approval of the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) and the Cabinet of The Bahamas.
BPL executives did say that the increases in the cost of electricity was due to a fuel surcharge that was factored into the monthly BPL bill, which is a common practice used by BPL and other electricity companies around the world.
The important note was underscored that BPL runs its power generation equipment on Bunker C fuel, which has seen a 20 percent increase from 2016, which was already at an all-time high and steadily rising three to four percentage points over the last several years.
Compared to Texas Sweet Crude and Brent Crude, which stand at US$53 and US$62.50 respectively, Bunker C fuel on the other hand starts from an average of US$450 per barrel of low-density Bunker C to over US$750 for high density Bunker C fuels.
Bunker C is also used for marine fuel for large cargo ships/container ships and also for various military assets, i.e., battleships, aircraft carriers and submarines, which means that as there are higher volumes of international trade in goods and military build-up and exercises, the increase in the use of Bunker C can occur, also increasing the prices on the world market.
Energy diversification has been a thorny issue in The Bahamas, as the average cost of electricity in the country is one of the highest in the world, prompting debate about cleaner burning fuels for electricity and also a move away from the monopoly energy provider, BPL, altogether.