The Dominica government Wednesday announced that it had acquired the majority shares in the island’s electricity company (DOMLEC) following discussions that began a year ago with the Canadian-based energy company, Emera Incorporated.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit in a radio broadcast, did not disclose the amount being paid for ownership of the utility company but noted that on several occasions he had expressed publicly “the need for us to take greater control of our energy security and correct a historic wrong, returning DOMLEC to the ownership of the Dominican people.
“This interest in the ownership of DOMLEC is predicated on the firm belief that our citizens are better served when the country’s main utilities, such as water and electricity, are in the hands of the State,” Skerrit added.
Skerrit told the nation that the former Dame Eugenia Charles government had acquired the majority shareholding in DOMLEC from the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), but was later sold back to CDC in 1997 by a United Workers Party administration.
He said 72 per cent of the shares were sold then for EC$21 million.
“This decision to sell was widely viewed as ill-advised, and against the best interest of the electricity consumers of this country,” Skerrit said, noting that the majority share ownership of DOMLEC has changed twice since 1997 and that on both occasions these shares were owned by foreign companies, with with the most recent being Light & Power Holdings Ltd. (LPH) of Barbados, a majority-owned subsidiary of Emera Inc.
Skerrit said that although there has been a marked improvement in DOMLEC’s services since Emera Inc. acquired majority shares in April 2013, ‘it has always been the desire of his administration to regain ownership of DOMLEC.
“We have enjoyed over the years a solid, professional relationship with Emera Inc. that has been defined by mutual trust and respect. This has categorized our discussions over the last several months as we have been in negotiations to acquire their shares in DOMLEC.
“I now have the privilege to announce that the government of the Commonwealth of Dominica will on March 31, 2022 sign an agreement with Emera Inc. to purchase its 52 per cent stake in DOMLEC. This means that from April 1…the government and people of Dominica will once more hold a controlling interest in DOMLEC. Twenty-one per cent of the shares will continue to be held by Dominica Social Security and the remaining 27 per cent is owned by private investors, mainly Dominicans.”
Skerrit said that the acquisition of DOMLEC aligns with the country’s goals to build resilience in the energy sector through deliberate action to improve energy security and strengthen growth and economic prospects.
“As part of our vision for a Dynamic Dominica, we are pursuing greater efficiency in electricity generation to meet our national target of 100 per cent clean, carbon-neutral energy by the year 2030.”
Skerrit said that the government anticipates that the sustainable utilization of the country’s renewable geothermal energy resource in the Roseau Valley will enhance the resilience of the power systems, reduce the energy import bill and help secure the island’s economic future.
“Our exploration of this readily available and more cost-effective energy option will promote shared prosperity, and further position Dominica to confront climate change challenges and other economic shocks.
“Recognizing the vulnerability of our island to severe weather events brought about by climate change, we will seek to enhance the integrated system for the generation, transmission and distribution of affordable and sustainable energy.”
Skerrit said that enhancing the resilience of the power system will require significant investment to avert risks, minimize damage to infrastructure and avoid disruptions of service.
“As a matter of priority, the government of Dominica will undertake further upgrades of transmission and distribution lines and fortify operations at existing power plants, to deliver a more efficient electricity supply to homes and businesses.”
He said these targeted efficiency measures, along with cleaner more affordable geothermal energy, is expected to result in, lower utility bills, reduced cost of doing business, and job creation as a spillover effect.
“We do not want to create the illusion to customers that assuming majority ownership of DOMLEC, will immediately translate to lower electricity bills, but we are preparing the foundation for that. It is important to note that we will inherit the debt associated with the post-Hurricane Maria restoration of the electricity grid.
“Additionally, the cost inherent in reducing our island’s vulnerability to climate hazards, the adverse effects of the Russia-Ukraine war on energy and commodity prices, and an ongoing rate review by the Independent Regulatory Commission (IRC) could potentially impact how swiftly we are able to reduce the cost of electricity.”
He said that his government commits to action, which will ensure that these costs are not too burdensome for consumers.
“As a long-term objective, the Government will endeavour to stabilize electricity costs and boost capacity. Working with the regulators, we will seek to protect consumers from rising energy prices through the application of reasonable tariffs; and ensure that every Dominican consumer can afford basic electricity rates.
“We are also exploring the potential for further development of our geothermal resources. We have two consultancies ongoing at the moment, supported by the World Bank, where we are doing a gap analysis of the legal, regulatory and institutional framework for geothermal and conducting a market analysis of downstream uses of geothermal, in particular the use of heat.”
Skerrit also indicated that the acquisition of DOMLEC would not mean consumers are now exempt from the payment of their bills.
“As owners of DOMLEC, Dominicans now have a more urgent responsibility to ensure the company’s sustainability and profitability over the long term. The government of Dominica is also fully cognizant of our own responsibility to protect and serve the interests of DOMLEC’s shareholders, including current and future pensioners of the Dominica Social Security as well as the many regular citizens among you who depend on the payment of dividends to sustain their livelihoods.”
He said it is incumbent on all Dominicans therefore, to continue to meet their commitments to DOMLEC, promising to appoint a strong, diverse, and qualified board of directors, “to help set the long-term direction of the company and ensure its sustainability”.