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THE HOYOS FILE: BL&P finds out which way the wind is blowing

Pat Hoyos, [email protected]

THE HOYOS FILE: BL&P finds out which way the wind is blowing

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The projected loss in base revenue to the applicant, if all seven megawatts of installed capacity is billed using the ‘sale of excess’ arrangement, is approximately $2.3 million….However, under the ‘buy all/sell all’ billing arrangement, the applicant’s sales volume is unaffected and its base revenue is not compromised,” – Fair Trading Commission decision on the Motion to Review Renewable Energy Rider, dated August 13, 2014.

OH, FOR THE GOOD OLD DAYS when the sum of all local efforts to get renewable energy established here seemed to be convincing the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P) to give us a few more megawatts to work with.

By the time the above decision was published, the country had already established more than seven megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic systems. It took another six months for the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) to publish another decision on the subject, which it did in late February this year, finally accepting the power company’s own recommendation to take the limit to 20 MW.

However, in mitigation, the FTC stated that the BL&P had only submitted its Intermittent Renewable Energy Penetration Study to the Commission 10 days earlier, on Friday February 13, 2015. At the end of April, just two months later, BL&P said it had produced a model with General Electric that shows the grid can accept up to 65 MW without the need for storage or supply and demand controls.

BL&P’s manager-designate Roger Blackman, making a presentation to the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (BCCI) monthly luncheon: Over the next two years, the company would like to see up to 55 megawatts of renewable energy coming on to its grid, with 38 MW coming from solar power, 15 MW from wind and two MW from thermal and heat recovery. Over these coming two years, said the company, it would also like to phase out over 200 MW of what it calls its “legacy generation” electricity production, including some low speed diesel units and its steam production unit.

This would only be the start of BL&P’s conversion to 100 per cent clean energy generation, which would be accomplished, it says, between 2029 and 2045. This new strategic vision comes after the company had maintained a policy for years that renewable energy, due to its very nature, was intermittent and therefore an unreliable source of electricity supply for the national grid, and could only be allowed in one puff of wind and two rays of sunshine at a time.

Did the new strategic direction follow a planned strategic misdirection? If you go back and read the excerpt from the FTC decision on how the power company would be allowed to adopt only the “buy all/sell all” policy and completely ditch the “sale of excess” option, you might notice how ridiculous this seems.

Was the real purpose to have the FTC establish that the company, like Fran in The Nanny, never buys retail? Was the company hoping to play the “intermittent energy is not reliable” game here for much longer, while they geared up as significant self-suppliers of the commodity? You don’t want to cease your reliance on Middle East oil only to find that you now rely on Bajan suppliers of wind and solar power.

In just 10 weeks, the company moved from endorsing 20 MW to 55 MW to be reached in just two years. And by 2020, it wants to see almost three times that amount, 145 MW, of “clean” energy flowing through its grid. I think these plans were already being made but the decision to compress the timeline came about as a result of the incredible progress being made, by Elon Musk’s companies and others, allegedly including Apple, in battery storage technology.

Once the solar energy you create, whether by a business, a Government department or a home, can be stored economically, then we will see much less reliance on the national grid.

The company’s efforts to protect its revenue base in order to support its costly low speed diesel technology will therefore be badly eroded, so that is why it has announced its desire to get rid of them entirely. What a sea change. No doubt it will use the same storage tech, albeit in massive amounts, to keep energy for its peak periods.

In addition, the great savings in energy to be made, I read somewhere, will come not from all this clean energy, but from LED lighting, if a large portion of regular bulb users convert. Those prices are dropping. That has helped as well in the decrease in load being experienced by the power company.

In its presentation to the BCCI, the company said there were several factors, among them the declining load being placed on its fossil fuel production system as more homes and businesses move to renewable energy solution; the fast declining cost of renewable energy sytems; the lack of availability of what it termed “economic natural gas”; a growing customer desire for renewable energy options, and the findings of the company’s own study of the market.

You could say that the power company’s bosses at Emera took a good look at the way the wind was blowing and the sun was shining down on this little island of ours and decided that if they didn’t unveil their grand new vision soon they might lose all hope of leading the energy market here. Some may say that is already the case.