Renewable energy viable for islands

Written by Richard Green/

A U.K.-funded energy study scheduled to be released soon says wind and landfill gases can be economically viable sources of renewable energy in the Turks and Caicos Islands, but won’t necessarily reduce electricity costs.

Members of the Providenciales Chamber of Commerce heard that and other tidbits from a draft of the study at a Feb. 7 meeting with four speakers on energy as a factor in sustainable development and it’s impact on the cost of doing business.

Electrical Commissioner Malike Cummings said the study by Castalia Strategic Advisors is “a very comprehensive document,” and a draft will be released within a few weeks for public review and comment.

The study which began in November was to include a national energy audit, a review of current laws and policies here and in other nearby countries, and an assessment of energy efficient appliances and equipment.

In October, the governor’s Advisory Council “recommended the modernisation of building and planning regulations to encourage the installation of micro-generation equipment in private and commercial properties, and that (the government) review and consider the feasibility of introducing binding renewable energy generation targets to incentivise the main providers to invest in a mix of generating sources.”

PPC Ltd. President and CEO Eddinton Powell told the chamber that the utility supports using renewable energy if it is properly regulated and doesn’t increase the cost of electrical power. PPC has hired its own energy expert, Dr. Jonathan Lesser, president of Continental Economics, to conduct an independent assessment on whether renewable energy is feasible in the islands.

The problem in the TCI is that there are no laws or regulations to address the use of renewable energy, and it is the government’s job to determine policies, incentives and regulations for renewable energy to go forward, said Department of Environment and Coastal Resources Director Wesley Clerveaux.

“Our future outlook is promising,” Cummings said, “but we have to do proper due diligence to ensure that whatever is implemented is proper and will reduce the cost and prices of energy in the TCI.” That includes addressing gaps in building and development codes.

Even with alternative energy sources, the approach to efficient energy use will be a combination that includes conservation, Clerveaux said.

Both Cummings and Powell pointed out that the sun and wind are not reliable energy sources, and that harnessing their power has large up-front investments in equipment that can increase the cost of electricity.

“The experience with utility scale renewable energy worldwide is mixed,” Powell said in a statement announcing that PPC had hired Lesser. “There are significant opportunities in renewable energy under the right conditions, but experience has shown that electricity consumers and taxpayers will pay the price if the national policy is wrong.

Cummings pointed out that Barbados was the only country in the Caribbean to use solar power on a large scale since the 1970s oil crisis. About half of all homes in Barbados now use solar water heaters, while less than 2 percent use solar in the TCI.

Powell said PPC believes solar hot water applications at island hotels may have significant economic potential.

While some people want to use grid-connected solar power in their homes, Powell said it’s more expensive than what PPC charges. Producing electricity with photovoltaic technology at a central plant is estimated to cost twice as much, he said.

Clerveaux pointed out that it is important for the TCI to develop its own standards because those used in other countries with different climates and different environmental concerns would not always be best here.

For example, some solar equipment designed for use in the U.S. is not the most efficient for the TCI, Cummings said.

In the TCI, two good ways to save money on energy are converting from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs and using high efficiency air conditioning equipment, Cummings said.

Electricity costs in the TCI is higher than other Caribbean nations because it has no deep see port, so diesel for its generators has to be transshipped, increasing the cost, Cummings said.

PPC’s base rate is fixed, but the overall rate charged to customers rises and falls in direct proportion to world fuel prices.

Average monthly bill for 400 kilowatt hours

  • TCI (TCU)    $161.20*
  • Dominica (DOMLEC)    $158.92
  • Montserrat (MUL)    $158.54
  • TCI (PPC)    $156
  • Curacao (AQUALESTRA)    $153.69
  • Antigua (APUA)    $142.07
  • Jamaica (JPSCo)    $133.63
  • Cayman (CUC)    $132
  • Bermuda (BELCO)    $126.80

Source: CARILEC 2009