Published On: Tue, Jun 11th, 2024

Citizens had to resort to reporting manually on Facebook about GEBE public meeting

PHILIPSBURG — The much anticipated public session organized by NV GEBE on Friday, June 7th, 2024, quickly saw tension grew as PR spokesperson, Paula Gordon, announced to the 60+ guests present that live broadcasting of the company’s ‘candid conversations’ with the public via Facebook would not be allowed.

Radio personality Jeffrey Sochrin, aka Dr. Soc, expressed his frustration about the ban on recording the meeting. Nevertheless, hundreds found solace on Facebook via the manual but real-time reporting of a number of citizen reporters, including Melanie Choisy.

Acting manager Troy Washington explained to the sixty attendees that GEBE has been facing difficulties since Hurricane Irma, the cyber attack and the current energy crisis. He thanked the population “for being understanding, cooperative and patient.”

According to GEBE ’s commercial department the billing department is 94 percent back to normal.

Washington said in answer to a question about options to mitigate power consumption that the only solution is importing containerized energy. In a press release the company issued after the meeting it became clear that such a solution could take from anywhere between seven days and ten weeks.

Dismissing a question suggesting that what consumers pay for the fuel clause is higher than their actual electricity consumption, Washington said: “The base rate of 25 cents goes to GEBE for operations and the rest goes to the supplier. The fuel clause can never be higher than what you use.”

If GEBE cannot produce enough then why don’t they stop the building permits for large developments? was one of the questions. Washington: “That is a question for the ministry of VROMI.”

GEBE’s long term solution is to increase its production capacity by 27 MegaWatt, which requires an investment of $35 to $45 million. The short term solution with containerized energy could take 2 to 2.5 months to become a reality. Washington remained nevertheless optimistic: “The aim is to solve load shedding within the next two to three weeks.”

To a question about the legal basis for the fuel clause Washington said that the fuel clause is on GEBE-invoices “for transparency purposes.”
Is there a way to fix the issue in terms of reputation management? Interesting question, but Washington remained clear: “GEBE cannot present a false narrative saying that it can supply the energy when it cannot.”

Solar entrepreneur David Salomon asked why GEBE does not implement this viable option. Washington: “Solar panels are in no way short term solution. GEBE needs to research how to fit this properly into the grid.”

In its subsequent press release GEBE stated that solar power is not among its current priorities. “It is a costly option that requires more investments for maintenance.”

Washington said that GEBE aims to have containerized generators arrive in a few weeks. That triggered a reaction from Jadira Veen: “I need to see this to believe it. Does it not take Wärtsilä twelve months to build a generator?”

Former Public Health Minister Emil Lee asked whether GEBE is consulted when VROMI approves building permits and when the company will introduce a net metering policy.

Patrick Drijvers answered these questions: “We had no clue about the projects that have come online recently and the government has to put that net metering policy together.”

Why are the electricity bills so high? someone asked. Answer: “The war in Ukraine has impacted fuel costs. And believe it or not: St. Maarten is the seventeenth cheapest in the region for electrical costs.”

One Facebook follower Denise Ormaechea was apparently not satisfied, given the following comment; “We should all try to find our own solutions and just pay the minimum to these clowns. This is not Holland and it will never be. We are just left like after Irma: on our own.”


Related articles:
NV GEBE successfully hosts initial ‘Candid Conversations’ series for the general public