DOMLEC says it recorded an EC$2.5 million loss in 2018 as electricity sales were down by more than half pre-Maria figures

Still recovering from the EC$ 31.7 million damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in 2017, DOMLEC, the island's only electricity generation, distribution and transmission business, has reported its second multi-million dollar loss in a row.

In 2018 DOMLEC says it lost EC$2.5 million.

"Compared to a net loss after tax of $9.35 million in 2017, the Company suffered a net loss after tax of EC $2.5 Million in 2018," said David McGregor, DOMLEC's board chairman.

By the end of 2018, DOMLEC had connected every customer who was ready to receive power from its distribution lines but Dominicans were not using as much electricity as they did before Hurricane Maria in September 2017, McGregor said.

"By the end of 2018, 28,353 customers or 77.7% of the preĀ¬ Maria count were safely connected to the grid. However, projected customer energy consumption has not kept pace with forecasts. A 12-month comparison reveals that 2018 sales were 56.4% of pre-Maria sales," McGregor said in the Chairman's statement of DOMLEC's 2018 Annual Report.

McGregor did not say so but the loss of the Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) in Picard, Portsmouth must have had a significant impact on electricity consumption in 2017 and 2018. Before Hurricane Maria, Ross University had approximately 1,215 students on its register and about 450 (315 Dominicans) faculty and staff. That's more than 1665 customers that DOMLEC temporarily lost in 2017 and that number vanished permanently in 2018 when the RUSM relocated to Barbados.

Fifty-two percent of DOMLEC, the Dominica Electricity Services Limited, is owned by Dominica Power Holding Limited, a subsidiary of Emera (Caribbean) Incorporated of Canada; the Dominica Social Security owns 21% and the Dominican public owns the other 27% of DOMLEC.

In his report, McGregor said that at the beginning of the restoration process after Hurricane Maria, DOMLEC set a 95% target to reconnect customers within seven days of receipt of electrical certificates if the location had access to power.

"The Company is pleased to report that 97.25% of customers were connected within 7 days," the DOMLEC chairman said. "By year-end, 100% of our customers had access to the grid if they were willing and able to reconnect".

But a significant number of customers were not ready for reconnection and, additionally, those who were connected used less electricity in 2018 compared to pre-Maria levels.

"This has placed the Company in an unenviable position as $64,131,208 has been expended on the restoration but the expected recovery in sales has not yet materialized," McGregor said.

Looking towards the future, DOMLEC said it had "explored several avenues aimed at moving towards its sustainable renewable energy goals".

"The negotiations targeted at the development of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the Dominica Geothermal Development Company was one such activity", McGregor said. "The PPA for the purchase of geothermal energy is expected to be signed in 2019".

DOMLEC said it was also involved in the preparation of a Strategic Renewable Energy Plan (S-REP) for Dominica that is being developed by the Clinton Climate Initiative team.

But 2018 was a challenging year for DOMLEC because while it expended millions to restore the electricity system, sales have remained stagnant.

"The previously arranged standby facility of EC$30 million from the National Bank of Dominica (NBD) proved inadequate," said McGregor. "Therefore, additional financing in the form of loan, i.e. EC$43.5 million and grant of EC$0.57 million was sought and delivered to fund the restoration process".

In 2018 electricity sales decreased by 37.9% over sales in 2017. Total revenue fell by 21.8% while operating expenses were 12.4% lower than that incurred in 2017.

"The impact of Hurricane Maria continued to adversely affect the Company's profitability as it did in 2017," the Chairman said.

In 2019 DOMLEC said it will continue building "resilience and flexibility of the grid which will contribute to increased reliability".

With the company's financial position "gradually improving" DOMLEC's full recovery will depend on the health of the Dominican economy, McGregor said.