By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas "is never going to make" the National Energy Policy's (NEP) goals, providers warned yesterday, with nine megawatts (MW) of renewable capacity required every year to hit target.
Philip Holdom, Alternative Power Supply's (APS) president, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas was "nowhere close" to achieving that renewable expansion rate, which he said is now needed to hit the NEP target of producing 30 percent of this nation's energy needs from sustainable sources by 2030.
His warning came as the Government moves to create an Energy Planning Unit (EPU), which will be charged with creating the road map and framework for the Bahamas to achieve these goals.
An Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) document, setting out a $450,000 project to support the Electricity Act's proper implementation, found that "policy and data gaps" were preventing the Bahamas from shedding its position as the Caribbean's worst for renewable energy penetration.
The report, obtained by Tribune Business, said the NEP's "ambitious targets" for renewable energy uptake were being hindered by the absence of an execution mechanism and "poor co-ordination" between the Government, private sector and regulators.
Setting the scene, the IDB report said: "The Bahamas ranks lowest in the region for renewable energy penetration, suffers from a high fuel import bill (7 percent of GDP), high and volatile electricity prices, as well as a large and financially challenged utility, Bahamas Power and Light (BPL), which experiences frequent power outages and elevated system losses.
"Additionally, in recent years, The Bahamas has suffered from strong natural disasters that impacted its GDP and energy sector, underlining the need to plan for more resilient energy infrastructure."
The reformed Electricity Act, and appointment of the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) as sector regulator, were meant to address these challenges but, to-date, have had little practical effect.
"The sustainable energy landscape within The Bahamas continues to be constrained by policy and data gaps, and lacks the resources (financial and human) that are necessary for implementing the robust administrative and governance arrangements that are necessary for effective implementation and coordination of efforts," the IDB report found.
"The overarching vision has set ambitious targets for the use of renewable energy, but there is a lack of concrete mechanisms to achieve these targets, including integrated energy planning to assist the Government of the Bahamas achieve its goals as articulated in the Electricity Act and National Energy Policy.....
"Although the Electricity Act lays out the roles and responsibilities of selected actors, its implementation has been delayed due to poor co-ordination and lack of adequate definition of roles and tasks."
The IDB-financed project has two components, one of which is the staging of an 'Energy Forum' for both private and public sector stakeholders to help develop an "action plan" aligned with the Act and National Energy Policy's goals.
The second involves the creation of an Energy Planning Unit that will be charged with co-ordinating policies and plans, and monitoring building codes, regulations, certification and guidance for industry participants.
"The general objective... is to support the Government of the Bahamas (GoBH) to strengthen its capacity to achieve a transition to the implementation of safe, least costly, reliable and environmentally sustainable electricity that will positively impact on the economy and social welfare," the IDB said of the project.
"It aims to increase the contribution of clean energy sources, such as photovoltaics and LNG, by strengthening the institutional capacity to regulate and modernise the energy sector, and will contribute to resilient infrastructure by enhancing the capacity for co-ordination between public and private sectors."
Mr Holdom yesterday said he had been unaware of the project until informed of it by Tribune Business. "The 30 [percent] by 2030; at the rate we're going we're never going to make it," he told this newspaper. "By my calculation we need to do 9 MW a year, and we're nowhere close to that."
The APS president said the Bahamas "effectively has zero" renewable generation capacity given the limits imposed by the Small Scale Residential Generation (SSRG) initiative, which caps generation capacity at 100 kilowatts (KWh).
While APS had installed a collective 5 MW in generation over the past eight years, Mr Holdom said: "We could have put in 15 times' that, but the policy is so hit and miss, and so oppressive.
"At the rate we are going, it takes an SSRG application six months from start to close, when in the US it's a five-day process. We're never going to make that goal. Yes, we are severely not meeting the requirements of the NEP as written in the Electricity Act."
Mr Holdom added that Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) was another obstacle, pointing to URCA's recent finding that the utility may have "compromised the introduction of sustainable renewable energy in the shortest possible time" by breaching the Electricity Act 2015.
The regulator, in its draft order and initial findings, said the utility monopoly had failed to meet its legal obligation to produce a Renewable Energy Plan (REP), featuring timetables and performance benchmarks, within six months of the Act taking effect.
It added that BPL's failure to produce an acceptable REP was also delaying plans "by several commercial entities" to introduce renewable self-generation projects that will generate between 1 Mega Watt (MW) to 2.5 MW of energy, with any excess sold to the utility's grid.
With only Small Scale Residential Generation (SSRG) of up to 100 kilowatts currently permitted, such projects - as well as utility-scale renewable generation - fall into a 'hole' outside the existing legal and regulatory regime.