Power outages threaten to pull plug on Jamaican recovery program

Power outages have been ravaging this island in recent weeks, seriously threatening Prime Minister Edward Seaga's economic recovery program.

Antiquated equipment and rising demand are to blame, say officials of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSC), suppliers of electricity to the island.

Industrial production has been seriously affected by the outages, with the Jamaica Manufacturers Association (JMA) estimating that about 10 percent of the island's production was lost in the first two weeks of 1982.

One company, a shirt manufacturer, lost almost 2 1/2 days of production during the first 10 working days of 1982, and similar problems are reported in other industries.

If this continues, the JMA says plans to increase production and to employ more Jamaicans - all parts of the Seaga recovery program - will be frustrated.

''At a time when Jamaica is seeking to broaden its industrial base and to improve its ability to compete in the very difficult international markets, it cannot continue to have a major part of its infrastructure in disarray,'' the JMA said in a statement.

As the power situation worsened last week, the Jamaica National Investment Promotions, Ltd., a quasiofficial government agency, announced that 424 projects , involving an investment of almost $1 billion in private foreign and domestic funds, are on the drawing boards. Many of them will require substantial electrical power, and the agency said that some will not get off the drawing boards until the power problem is solved.

The JMA is urging the government to give the issue of electrical power top priority. They say that unless JPSC operates efficiently, 1982 production targets will not be met.

But to bring power capacity up to efficient levels and to replace outdated equipment will cost at least $35 million in 1982. Some observers suggest that by 1985 the government will have to spend close to $100 million on the JPSC if the Seaga program of production increases are to be met.

Peak demand, during the morning and afternoon hours, has been growing, say JPSC officials, and they admit that four- and five-hour blackouts have been frequent.

In recent days, the city of Kingston, where much of the productive capacity of the island is located, has been hit by outages that have left large sections of the city without power for most of 24 hours. Load sharing and other arrangements have kept power flowing to parts of town where there is a heavy concentration of manufacturing industry, but this has left areas of town with service industries - banks, insurance companies, hotels - without power for long periods.

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