Over the past eight months I have had the great pleasure of assisting the Office of the Regulator (O.O.T.R.) in developing its role in the electricity sector, and helping it address key sector challenges.
The sector challenges include moving towards the Prime Minister’s target of 100% renewables by 2025, providing an enabling environment for private investment, and ensuring “sustainable and affordable energy for all”, a key objective of the Samoa Energy Sector Policy 2017-22.
O.O.T.R. has an important facilitating role in the electricity sector.
It is probably best known for setting the tariff, but also is required to develop and monitor service standards, protect customer interests and implement national energy policy among several objectives.
Customers want low tariffs, but they also require a good quality of supply, and a network that is upgraded and operated to best modern standards.
Achieving all these objectives requires a strong policy and regulatory regime in the country, as well as ongoing commitment to excellence from all participants.
Based on my personal experience, there are many strong points to the Samoan electricity sector. A comprehensive institutional structure is in place.
Performance is generally good, with prices reasonable and outages not as frequent compared with utilities in many Pacific islands. E.P.C’s response in reconnecting customers after Cyclone Gita was well-received.
Much-publicised difficulties in restoring power in Auckland following recent storms indicates that even the most advanced systems are not immune to difficulties in recovering from external shocks.
In addition, the shift to Cashpower has largely been successful for customers and E.P.C.
However, many improvements are still necessary to bring the electricity sector up to date.
Effective planning of new renewable energy projects is critical to ensure that new generation plants are brought on line where they are needed to meet demand and provide clear benefits to customers.
At the same time, greater clarity can be provided to private investors so that contracts are negotiated seamlessly, which provide substantial benefits and price discounts to Samoans.
Greater transparency in tariff setting is necessary to provide confidence that E.P.C’s costs are appropriate, and to provide incentives to become more efficient.
Broader performance reporting is required so customers can understand how E.P.C’s service is evolving, facilitating E.P.C’s communications with its own customer base.
In many countries, technology is changing the interface between customer and utility.
Samoa is no different. New metering technology proposed by E.P.C. for larger customers is long overdue to modernise the tariff structure, maximise energy efficiency, and ensure all customers pay a fair share of the costs they impose on E.P.C.
New technology can also promote the installation by customers of solar panels in their own property.
A facilitating set of rules and procedures is needed to ensure systems are safe, pay customers a reasonable price for energy exported to the grid, while continuing to pay for energy used and the use of E.P.C’s network.
These are some next steps of a long journey, but a good foundation is in place.
O.O.T.R. is actively addressing these issues and working with E.P.C. to ensure progress is realised. Success is not simply measured in terms of investment and efficiency, but in terms of customer engagement, services provided, transparency, flexibility and a mindset that places the customer at the forefront of change.
*The writer has been working as a consultant, with A.D.B.’s support in O.O.T.R. since August 2017. This article is based on his experience in Samoa working in the electricity sector.