Editorial | Discuss underground cables
Unless Justice Bryan Sykes' decision is overturned at appeal - if the persons who brought the case decide to take it further - people who live in Hope Pastures, St Andrew, have to abide with overhead power lines. Excepting that they agree to pay many millions of dollars to rehabilitate and upgrade the old system that delivered their electricity via underground cables.
In his ruling last week, Justice Sykes held that when the Hope Pastures homes were built nearly six decades ago, residents had to pay for the service, which the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) says is too expensive to maintain. So, the light and power company, as it does in other communities, has resorted to overhead lines, which are ugly.
Aesthetics apart, it makes sense, over the long run, to have power cables, and other utility lines, run underground. It is safer: it is far less likely of someone being electrocuted by properly laid underground cable than from a fallen, overhead power line. And during natural disasters such as hurricanes, underground systems sustain none, or little, of the damage that can be so detrimental to social life and the economy.
Indeed, after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, large swathes of Jamaica were without electricity for several months, bringing many businesses to a crawl. Hurricane Ivan, in 2004, left JPS with a repair bill of more than J$1 billion and a months-long repair programme. The economy suffered.
At the time of Gilbert, the then prime minister, Edward Seaga, talked of running utility lines underground. The idea was never advanced, presumably because of costs, although the telecoms companies have their trunk fibre-optic cables below the surface.
The conversation, however, should resume. It is likely that with global warming and climate change, Jamaica will experience more intense and erratic weather events that put utility cables at risk. Repairs will be expensive and perhaps more frequent.
Jamaica should, in the circumstance, begin discussions on, say, a 25-year programme of running power lines underground, or perhaps the introduction of new technologies that place utilities at less risk. How this is paid for - including what should be the capital investment by the service providers, and what, if anything, ought to be specifically recouped from consumers - should be part of the discourse.