By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas is 30 years behind the rest of the world on renewable energy implementation, with one provider blasting the Government’s residential and commercial self-generation plans for “setting us back further”.
Phil Holdom, president of Alternative Power Supply (APS), told Tribune Business in a statement that the proposed solar system sizes were “impractical” and have little effect on lowering Bahamians’ electricity bills.
While praising both the current and previous administrations for their role in making renewable energy affordable, Mr Holdom argued that the self-generation plans outlined by Kenred Dorsett, minister of the environment, will have the “opposite effect” and set back both solar power use and the Bahamas’ transition to renewable energy.
“The current proposed policies will set us further back as a nation and do nothing to relieve the public’s desire and immediate ability to reduce their electric bill with a renewable energy system,” Mr Holdom said.
“APS is disappointed that the Bahamian renewable energy experts were not consulted closely and meaningfully in the drafting of the proposed policy. APS and Bahamian renewable energy companies requested the ability to review the proposed plicies and provide feedback prior to their release to the public, but were not given the opportunity.”
The Government’s National Energy Policy has confirmed it wants the residential energy self generation (RESG) initiative to generate 10 per cent of this nation’s total energy mix as early as 2014, although limits have been imposed on each individual homeowner.
The only permitted technologies are wind turbines or solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, while BEC can limit the number of participants. To facilitate all this, the Electricity Act has to be amended, which Mr Dorsett promised would happen “in short order”.
On New Providence, residential RESG participants can only supply a maximum 5 kilowatts (KW) to the BEC grid. This amount is further restricted on the Family Islands:
• On Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma, homes with renewable systems can only supply a maximum 3 KW to the grid.
• On Long Island, Bimini, San Salvador, Andros, Inagua, Cat Island, Great Harbour Cay, Black Point and Staniel Cay, the limit is 2 KW
• And for all other islands, the maximum is 1 KW.
When it came to commercial/business renewable energy systems interconnecting, and feeding excess power into the BEC grid, Mr Dorsett said the only permitted participants are public/government buildings and approved manufacturers under the Industries Encouragement Act.
And the maximum amount of power they can supply is limited to BEC’s “estimate of the customer’s peak demand” or 50 KW, whichever is greater, on New Providence.
For Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma, the limit is placed at 25 KW, and for all other Family Islands it has been set at 5 KW per commercial/business renewable system.
“The proposed allowable solar system sizes are impractical and will have little effect on lowering electric bills,” said Mr Holdom. “The policy as outlined does not benefit the public or businesses compared to other options that are possible. It penalises individuals or businesses who are investing in renewable energy systems with their hard earned-money.”
Mr Dorsett’s statement said the self-generation initiative would be assessed after two years, and homeowners and businesses would be paid via net billing and the use of meters that could measure the two-way flow of energy.
“BEC shall credit the RESG’s account for all energy (kWh) up to the maximum threshold allowed that is supplied to the grid, based on BEC’s applicable fuel adjustment charge prevailing during the month the energy is supplied,” Mr Dorsett said.
If the renewable supplier used more BEC-generated electricity than it supplied to the grid, it would pay the net difference between the two. But, if it supplied more energy than it received from BEC, the supplier’s account would be in credit that was carried forward into the next billing period.
“Excess generated energy (kWh) within the allowable threshold will roll over form month to month until October of each year, at which time any energy credit will reset to zero. There will be no payment for excess energy generated by RESGs,” Mr Dorsett said.
Mr Holdom told Tribune Business: “The power company is saying, in effect: ‘When you make solar energy from your solar system during the day, we will credit you approximately $0.24 cents for every Kwh you produce, but when you buy from us at night it will cost you $0.40 cents.
“This is like paying for a well to be installed on your property, and the Water and Sewerage Department charging you for the water you draw from the well, or when they take the water, giving you less than what they charge you for the same water.
“BEC is intending to buy back a person’s solar energy to offset their fuel cost, yet the consumers pay for the fuel required to run the country’s generators. This is found on your bill and is called ‘Fuel Surcharge’. If you are producing solar energy you are not incurring any additional fuel expense to BEC. If you are purchasing power from BEC, you are paying for your portion of the fuel on your bill.”
Mr Holdom also labelled as inaccurate claims that solar systems will cause outages on BEC’s grid. “The current utility grid is experiencing outages primarily because there is insufficient generating capacity. The fact is, adding solar power to a generator circuit is the same as turning off loads on that generator, which reduces the fuel cost of running the generator,” he explained.
“The solar power in a home or business acts as a ‘load shedder’ to the national grid. This is similar to BEC shutting off sections of the island to reduce the load on their generators, except the production of solar power does not cut people’s power off. The only instance that a power grid would be affected by renewable energy was if all the new generating power was solar or wind energy, and that power was providing ‘intermittent power’ to the power grid.
“Adding solar to the current power grid will only serve to reduce the loads on the generators and assist the country’s power issues until such time as additional capacity is added. The fact that we need more capacity of generating power has nothing to do with the fact that a solar system on the current grid will do nothing but help the current underpowered grid situation.”
Mr Holdom added: “We as a nation are 30 years behind the rest of the world in using a mix of renewable energy to supplement our fossil fuel-based power generation. This is egregious and short-sighted, considering we have the highest levels of sunlight in the world.
“The proposed legislation will only hinder the implementation of renewable energy and create a disincentive to install renewable energy. The people of the Bahamas are ready and willing to ‘go solar now’, with the expectation that the power company provides makeup power when needed,” he added.
Mr Holdom called for the Government not to turn the proposed plan into legislation, and to consult local and industry experts and stakeholders, calling the policy a “win-lose” situation that could be turned into a “win-win”.