Five questions for PNG Power’s new Acting MD Carolyn Blacklock

Carolyn Blacklock has been appointed the new acting Managing Director of PNG Power. Business Advantage PNG talks to her about where the utility is headed.

PNG Power’s Carolyn Blacklock. Source: PNG Power

BAPNG: What are your priorities in service provision initially, and what are your goals?

Carolyn Blacklock: I think there’s a full technical capacity within PNG Power to restore the system so that we get better reliability. Some of those reliability factors are technical, and there are certainly things we can do with minimal amounts of money to get better reliability.

There is a need to be very prudent. With the rise in the oil price, and with some of our customers finding it difficult to pay bills, it is a challenge for us. But it’s not necessarily an unexpected challenge.

We also have to be thinking longer term, and I think the longer term is exciting.

BAPNG: Where do you see the best prospects?

Blacklock: The future feels bright when you look at the capacity of the people here, and you look at the opportunity in terms of clean power generation. In a lot of countries, they just don’t have that opportunity. [IN PNG], you have hydro and you have gas and you have everything at your disposal; it certainly makes the job a lot easier.

‘We’re going to have to change our business model. We are not always going to be a monopoly and we’ve got to ready ourselves as if we’ve got competition now.’

The policy environment is also right. We’re sitting at 12 to 14 per cent electrification and you have the government saying ‘we want to get to 70 per cent and we want to be renewables-only by 2050’. That’s good.

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But PNG Power needs to understand that nobody’s going to do this for us. There’s no magic department that’s going to come along and give us money. We’re going to have to change our business model. We are not always going to be a monopoly and we’ve got to ready ourselves as if we’ve got competition now.

We have got some deep, critical financial matters to deal with. It is partly about driving efficiency, but there is no cutting of people exercise to be done here. It’s really about re-engineering the processes to make the business more reliable for our customers.

BAPNG: There’s quite a few projects on the drawing board as far as new power generation projects are concerned, part of a move towards sourcing power from Independent Power Providers (IPPs). How much involvement will PNG Power have in those?

Blacklock: This is probably the most important medium term question facing us. If the revenues aren’t coming in because people are choosing to bypass us, then the IPP model becomes more stressed.

A PNG Power worker at the Yonki Dam hydro power plant. Credit: PNG Power

We’ve got to take responsibility not just for utility but for the system-wide approach to power: to electrification and to the cost of electrification. Currently, in many instances with the IPPs, we pay more for power than we sell it to our customers. That is not a sustainable business model.

We need a least-cost generation plan, which becomes a blueprint for all of us in this sector. So, if an unsolicited proposal wants to lob in at a bilateral level, or into PNG Power Ltd, or into the Provincial Governments, we all can refer to this blueprint for where we should be developing power.

PNG Power’s problem is not just generation; our problem is where we’ve got the generation; which part of the transmission line is it on, and in particular at what cost?

BAPNG: In the last few years, the Independent Public Business Corporation or Kumul Consolidated Holdings (KCH) have taken ownership of the major projects at the conception or development stage. Do you foresee that in the future PNG Power might have a closer involvement at an earlier stage in projects?

My understanding is that KCH will be very supportive rather than interfering in PNG Power’s business. But again, PNG Power has to prove that we can do this. We have to be more organised and disciplined and we have to drive the agenda.

‘If we have a plan about electrifying Papua New Guinea and stabilising the grid and revitalising PNG Power, I don’t think money will be our problem.’

The Port Moresby Power Project is one that just looks so obvious we should do it. In the short-term, stabilising the Ramu Grid is a priority. I think that Naoro-Brown hydro would be a cracker of a project, actually, for government to build. But I also acknowledge that when you don’t have the capital, the structure that’s currently before us is probably the most sensible.

We can’t wait for the department to develop a least-cost generation plan. Our relationships tend to be driven by others rather than us being on the front foot and saying: ‘This is how we’re going to develop the power sector, and this is PNG Power’s role in that.’

We’re not the entire sector, but we are the lion’s share and people expect it from us.

BAPNG: The way you’re talking it seems like no more capital is going to come to PNG Power. Is that the case or would you be looking for additional capital?

If we have a plan about electrifying Papua New Guinea and stabilising the grid and revitalising PNG Power, I don’t think money will be our problem. I think our partners will come to our aid. But we must have a clear plan.

Comments

  1. Alois Odis says:

    In support of all of the commentators above

  2. John Bolkun says:

    The initiative taken by A/MD-BL is a way forward for PPL so in all it needs Team work …

  3. nelson says:

    Actually walking the talk is the pinnacle following a good interview.

  4. Mari Ellingson says:

    Great interview.

  5. I, Peter Sakme a customer supports what A/MD BL said about changing the model of the way business is conducted here in PNG. The collection can be improved and it only needs smart strategies and energizing the workforce. Apply the Lewin’s model and then PPL can do lots to improve services to the bulk of the population. There are lots of citizens without electricity reaching them. The money is there with the people. It is how best you reach them. Community awareness is crucial for PPL.

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