High Cost Of Diesel Spurs Caribbean Islands Renewable Energy Climate Change Plan

Lying east of the US and British Virgin Islands, the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla’s resident population, at some 15,000, makes it about the size of a small American town. Anguilla, along with its Caribbean island neighbors, is at the forefront of change when it comes to coping with the twin challenges of rising costs – both economically accounted for and “externalized” – of fossil fuel energy and climate change, however.

 Reliant on imported diesel for its electricity generation, electricity prices for Anguillans have soared recently, to $0.63 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Growing numbers have found themselves unable to pay their monthly bills, which has prompted the Anguilla Electricity Company (ANGLEC), the island’s sole power provider to cut their power to the point where the 91-square mile island has frequently “been plunged into darkness,” according to an IPS news report.

Residents’ growing ire with the rapid escalation in the cost of electricity has grown to the point where the island’s government is considering turning to renewable energy. It’s crafted a Renewable Energy Project that it hopes will bring reliable, environmentally more sustainable electricity to residents at lower cost.

Speaking to Anguilla’s parliament, Minister of Utilities Evan Gumbs’ explanation of the rationale underlying the Renewable Energy Project should resonate with Americans, particularly given the Republicans’ present tactic of attempting to use the issue of rising gasoline and petroleum costs against Pres. Obama.

“Our exclusive reliance on conventional energy sources, i.e., diesel fuel, is the primary reason for the high prices we pay for electricity,” Minister Gumbs stated. “If our dependence on diesel fuel is reduced then we will see a correspondent decrease in the price of electricity.

“It must be remembered that Anguilla has no control over the price of diesel fuel in the world market and thus has no control over its imported price. It therefore follows to a large extent that we in Anguilla have little or no control over the price we pay for electricity, unless and until we reduce our reliance on it.”

Anguilla’s government has approved an Alternative Renewable Energy Bill, established an Alternative Energy Committee and an Anguilla Renewable Energy Office (AREO). Working through the UK’s Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), it’s also hired Castalia Strategic Advisors, a Washington D.C.-based consultancy with expertise in renewable energy planning and development, to assist with its Renewable Energy Project. CDKN’s provided $100,000 to hire the consultants.

Two Birds With One Stone: The Renewable Energy-Climate Change Link

Making amendments to legislation that can foster the adoption of renewable energy technology makes up the first phase the government’s renewable energy teams and Castalia are taking. Recognizing the interrelationship between climate change and energy production and sue, a new policy is being established that links and integrates the two.

“Castalia’s objectives include helping to implement key elements of the National Energy and Climate Change Policy by recommending how to amend electricity legislation to integrate both large and small-scale renewable energy,” senior analyst Laura Berman told IPS. “One of the primary reasons (of the renewable project) is to reduce electricity cost and price volatility. The idea is to do this while also increasing security and enhancing environmental sustainability.”

AREO chairman David Carty stated the issue succinctly. “I keep on saying that the energy crisis is the climate crisis and the climate crisis is the energy crisis. What islands present to this issue, and this is true for the entire Caribbean, is an opportunity to figure out how renewables interact on a closed grid.”

AREO is proposing construction of a wind farm on Anguilla. Lack of freshwater has been an even longer standing problem for the island, one that lead to the collapse of agriculture there centuries ago. In addition to generating clean, renewable power for lighting, industry and commerce and cooling and heating, Carty sees the potential for renewable energy to be used to produce freshwater by using reverse osmosis.

That fresh water could then be provided to local farmers at little or no cost, according to Carty. “As we all know, you can’t store electricity, it has to be used when it is generated. Our argument is we have solved our domestic water problem by establishing a reverse osmosis plant that takes sea water and turns it into fresh water, but the reverse osmosis plant uses enormous amounts of electricity and 60 cents of the dollar in the operation of the reverse osmosis plant is electricity,” Carty told IPS.

As Carty noted, Anguilla’s not the only Caribbean island being forced to come to grips with the twin challenges of rising fossil fuel costs and climate change. The rate of erosion of beach and coastal land on Anguilla and other Caribbean islands has been increasing in recent years.

The European Investment Bank’s helping finance a feasibility and planning study of a geothermal energy project on Dominica and construction of an inter-island transmission line to Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Elsewhere in the eastern Caribbean, a 101-MW wind farm is due to be commissioned on Puerto Rico, while St. Kitts and Nevis continues to try to overcome problems with West Indies Power’s plan to develop a geothermal energy plant and possible submarine transmission cable to Puerto Rico.