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IT’S A CARIBBEAN-UNITED STATES (US) ENERGY SUMMIT that’s scheduled for Washington on January 26 that shouldn’t be downplayed.
It may last for about half day, probably four hours, and its participants will range from US Vice President Joseph Biden to executive presidents, prime ministers and energy ministers from across the Caribbean.
And if Clitus Springer, the Organisation of American States’ top energy expert, gets his way, CARICOM countries would put a regional plan on the table for discussion that, if implemented, would “accelerate” the Caribbean’s “transition to renewable energy” instead of relying on fossil fuels.
Solar energy, which is already making a substantial difference in many small nations and coastal states, especially Barbados, and wind energy, which has its most significant Caribbean imprint in Jamaica, should be crucial elements in any regional strategy.
“Any time our prime ministers, presidents and their energy ministers and advisers meet with the US vice president, the dicussions must be considered important,” Springer asserted. He is director of the OAS’s Department of Sustainable Development and is expected to attend the summit.
As Springer sees it, the switch to renewable energy in Barbados, St Lucia, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Haiti, Antigua & Barbuda, Belize and The Bahamas was crucial to the region’s economic sustainabilit. He based that conclusion on the heavy importation of fuel oil, the use of foreign exchange to pay for it and the current poor state of the economies.
“The importation of fuel places a heavy demand on the region’s foreign exchange reserves and that’s so even in the face of falling prices,” was the way Springer put it to the BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY.
“Every gallon of fuel imported into the region is paid for with foreign exchange and that has ramifications for the sluggish economies in the context of falling commodity prices, low tourism receipts, and the volatile global economy.”
Although the summit’s organisers haven’t disclosed details of the summit’s agenda and it is not clear how many CARICOM leaders will attend, what’s known is that
St Lucia’s leader, Dr Kenny Anthony, and his counterpart in Grenada, Dr Keith Mitchell, are certain to be around the table. Some officials believe Prime Minister Freundel Stuart may be there as well.
Springer said the impact of climate change, the state of the region’s economy and access to financing should figure highly on the agenda.
“The region has to make climate change adaptation and mitigation a priority and it must do so quickly because of the savings that will accrue to the various countries. In addition, the impact on foreign exchange reserves and enhanced economic competitiveness are vital to the Caribbean,” he said.
Next there must be attention to market rationalisation. Springer thinks the summit can stimulate planning that would address solar and wind energy use and that in turn can lead to greater utilisation of those renewable sources.
“We are using solar but not to the maximum potential,” he said. “We are still at the lower ends of solar in terms of its energy potential. We need to make the quantum leap to the higher forms of solar energy conversion. In terms of wind, we only have a few countries that have gone at wind. Jamaica is at the forefront of that. Jamaica and St Kitts and Nevis have set up a wind farm. Jamaica has, by far, the largest megawatt footprint of wind energy.”
But it’s not simply a matter of developing those sources of energy. “it’s not a clear case of putting down a wind farm and connecting it to the grid,” he asserted.
“There are a number of other things that must be considered, issues that range from regulatory questions and connections to tariffs and legal issues. The goods news is that every single country in the Caribbean is aware and eager to move in that direction. St Lucia, for instance, is doing wind tests and you need to have solid data on wind levels and in what areas before you set up a tower and start to generate.”
Of course, the use of emerging technologies must be a factor in any planning. “Here is an opportunity for our prime ministers to put before Vice President Biden a regional position on energy and I think that opportunity should be seized,” argued Springer.
“You never know what’s going to come out of the summit but if we enter into it with a fuzzy position we are likely to get less out of it than if we go with a clearly articulated strategic position.
Caribbean countries have an international reputation for their elegant use of the English language in conferences and summits but are equally known for failing to follow up and for not taking advantage of opportunities. They often end up fighting among themselves over minor issues while allowing the big questions to go unanswered. They should avoid that pitfall this time.