Friday, December 15, 2017

Gas, diesel prices to remain unchanged ‘for a couple years’

Gasoline and diesel prices in Trinidad and Tobago are to remain the same for the next two years, as the Government is working on establishing a nationwide compressed natural gas (CNG) network as a solution to the annual $4 billion fuel subsidy bill, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine declared yesterday in Beijing, China.

“There will not be any adjustment in the price of gasoline or diesel in the the next... I would say in the next couple years,” Ramnarine said.

He did so during an event for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between National Gas Company (NGC) and China’s ENN Group, to help accelerate T&T’s CNG programme.

Among those in attendance at the signing ceremony, which took place at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Beijing, were NGC chairman Roop Chan Chadeesingh and ENN Group president Yip Sang Cheung.

TV6 News sought answers from Ramnarine as to whether the CNG programme, which NGC hopes to accelerate with the introduction of CNG for buses and maxi-taxis in the next two years, would result in a major adjustment to the fuel subsidy once the programme is fully operational.

“The Government’s policy has always been that before we contemplate any adjustment to the price of diesel or super gasoline, which are the two heavily-subsidised fuels—they both account for about 90 per cent of the subsidy together—that before we contemplate that (adjustment to the fuel subsidy) we must give the public an alternative and that alternative is CNG. So, we’ll only contemplate that once the CNG stations are built and the public has that option, that fuel choice option at the pump,” Ramnarine said.

He said for 30 years the CNG programme has not been able to “get off the ground”  in Trinidad and Tobago, adding “there must be a reason”.

In 2008, then prime minister Patrick Manning told Parliament: “We plan no increase in petroleum product prices, in petroleum fuel prices until such time as we give a proper alternative for citizens by way of compressed natural gas. We anticipate it will take us two years to do that.”

The party he then led, the People’s National Movement (PNM), lost the May 2010 snap general election he called to the People’s Partnership, led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is due to arrive in Beijing today for an official visit to China.

Ramnarine and the NGC leadership were among members of the T&T delegation, including journalists, who arrived in Beijing ahead of the Prime Minister.

Speaking through an interpreter, Cheung said ENN has been involved in the natural gas industry in China for more than 25 years.

“And we have over 15 years of experience operating CNG and LNG (liquefied natural gas) fuelling stations in China and in China, for the distribution market, every year we sell over ten billion cubic metres of natural gas ” Cheung said.

Ramnarine said in 2013, the Cabinet approved a $500 million proposal from NGC for phase one of the expansion of the CNG distribution network.

“That has two parts to it—one is the construction of 22 dispensing points and the other is the conversion of 300 buses and some high-use vehicles and maxi-taxis and so on,” Ramnarine said.

Chadeesingh said NGC is targeting fleet owners and some Government vehicles, such as those belonging to the Police Service and Defence Force. “And in that area we are going to concentrate in the first two years. So with the help of ENN, who have already done this here in China, we are hoping to fast-track the process,” Chadeesingh said.