The Daily Herald writes that the logo of the new Saba Electric Company (SEC) was unveiled Friday evening with much fanfare, official speeches and a widely attended public party that lasted well into the night. Alida Francis was the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies inviting Pastor Liburd to hold an invocation that was followed by the Saba anthem.
Former Antillean Senator Ray Hassell, a board member on the former joint St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba electricity utility company NV GEBE and current Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the SEC held the first official speech marking the presence at the ceremony of officials from both St. Maarten and Saba as well as that of Saba Governor Jonathan Johnson, Commissioners Chris Johnson and Bruce Zagers, Island Councilmen Carl Buncamper, Ishmael Levenston, and Rolando Wilson.
Representing NV GEBE St. Maarten, Minister Maurice Lake was amongst the large group of officials attending the meeting, as was former Antillean State Secretary Marcel Gumbs. Ivan Burkel was present representing St. Eustatius and St. Maarten’s GEBE Managing Director Romelio Maduro received special recognition for ensuring excellent cooperation between the islands during the transition.
SEC revives the name of the first Saba electricity company set-up by Elmer Linzey and Maude Edwards in 1962 and sold to GEBE in 1968. Maintaining all 15 former GEBE employees, SEC transitioned in January as the island’s only provider of electricity to its 1250 customers. Hassell’s speech stressed SEC objectives making the company profitable whilst maintaining the tariffs that were set before the transition. He spoke of the prospect of moving Saba’s power plant from its exposed position in the Fort Bay harbour to a protected site in Fort Gut near the current location of the medical school’s incinerator. The land property required for that relocation, some 10,000 square meters, has been secured by the government as a lease for 40 years. The next hurdle is to execute this relocation within two years as mandated by the Dutch government, through the funding of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
The property is to be surveyed shortly and SEC is actively seeking consultancy on the type of engine to be used at the new site. Currently Saba’s power plant operates with light fuel. Until now a service agreement with St. Maarten GEBE, meant Saba had been charged tariffs linked to the St. Maarten energy production costs, which are lower using heavy fuel as a reference. SEC hopes to work with St. Maarten GEBE to maintain the fuel agreement as a transitional technicality.
Hassel also spoke of the effort to invest in solar and wind-power energy as alternatives to help stave off current fuel expenses. Research, he said, indicates wind-power is not a viable alternative for Saba due to topography and equipment maintenance associated costs. Solar energy appears to be the choice despite the need to secure a large area for the installation of solar panels. SEC “does not belong solely to the shareholders” said Hassell, “it doesn’t belong to the supervisory board or management. It belongs to the employees who are the key factor for the running of it and to the people, the consumers.”
Hassell’s speech was followed by former GEBE and current SEC Managing Director Dexter Johnson who worked on Saba in the various electricity related positions for almost 30 years. Following a historical overview of GEBE up to the negotiated dismantling deal he spoke of the recent major investments made in the underground laying of cables. This project is about 90 per cent completed with some 20 km of underground cabling and over 30 transformer houses built last year. He outlined overhead cost reducing efforts, a new administrative, accounting and billing software which improved the net losses of the company down to 8 per cent, likely to be the lowest in the region. Due to the scale of the company and overhead operational costs, investment in alternative energy sources is imperative, said Dexter, so that SEC is allowed to maintain the current tariff structure and become profitable. Remarking on the support of the Dutch government he stressed “we are now responsible for our own affairs.”
Energy Commissioner Chris Johnson spoke as the Shareholder Representative for the new public utility company starting by amusingly admonishing St. Maarten’s Minister Lake, for delaying the opening ceremony. His speech stressed “we are here by force not by choice.” The Commissioner reminded all that the breakup of GEBE was initiated by St. Maarten whose unanimously passed island ordinance prohibited GEBE expenses on Saba and St. Eustatius. The commissioner noted that with the neighbouring islands out, and with GEBE such a large profitable company “looming political battles lay ahead on how the GEBE money will be spent on what project.” Commissioner Johnson also gave an overview of the electricity negotiations within the larger context of the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles. He believes the Dutch government promises for subsidising SEC losses give “a sound footing for the future.” Commissioner Johnson also acknowledged “St. Maarten gave us a fair deal.” He concluded “Whilst we are here by force, we made our own negotiation to be here, and we are here on our own terms. Our future is on our own terms.”
The SEC logo was then unveiled by Edwina Linzey, the widow of late Elmer Linzey, founder of Saba’s first electric company, and their daughter, Janet Linzey. Elmer Linzey’s brother, Rufus Linzey, was not present at the ceremony. Former Antillean senator, former Saba representative on the GEBE board and current Treasurer of the SEC Supervisory Board, Roy Smith, held a champagne toast. GEBE St. Maarten Director Maduro gifted laptop computers to two Saba students. The reception that followed featured catering, music and a fireworks display.