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Moving Renewable Energy ‘Beyond Talk’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) production of an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is “absolutely necessary” to move increased renewable energy usage “beyond talk”, a provider is arguing.

Guilden Gilbert, vice-president of Alternative Power Solutions (APS) Bahamas, backed a $450,000 Inter-American Development (IDB)-funded project’s plan to ensure that BPL produces an IRP that “aligns” with government energy policies.

The Government’s National Energy Plan (NEP) calls for 30 percent of The Bahamas’ energy mix to come from renewable sources by 2030, but Mr Gilbert said achieving this target will be extremely difficult without an IRP that sets out the “framework” for getting there.

“What should happen is what happens in a typical regulated environment,” he told Tribune Business. “The utility will provide an IRP showing how it can meet that deadline.

“That document is beyond the NEP. It’s a document where the utility shows how it plans to operate and assist the country in meeting the goals of the NEP. It shows the energy mix over five to 10 years, and to what level they’re using renewable energy in the total mix.

“I think an IRP will focus the utility on where it’s going as it has to be part of the implementation of the NEP. Creation of an IRP will allow the utility to focus in on how it will meet the goals of the NEP. Everything is going to have to go through the utility at the end of the day. It’s the only one that distributes the power. The IRP focuses in and lays all that out.”

The IDB, in a document outlining the project to support the Electricity Act’s 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 such as an IRP and “poor co-ordination” between the Government, private sector and regulators.

Mr Gilbert said Bermuda was currently going through an IRP exercise in its energy sector, and said the absence of such a “framework” in the Bahamas would make it difficult to hit the ‘30 percent by 2030’ goal.

“It’s fine to state the goal but we also have to lay out the framework on how to achieve it,” he told Tribune Business. “You can’t come to 2019 and say it will happen next year. It has to be slow and steady implementation.

“If this is something that the Government wants to achieve it’s extremely important that IRP is the framework to achieve the goal. It’s absolutely necessary; it’s no longer just talk, and there’s a plan to get to the end goal and the pieces are moving right now. What’s holding it back is the lack of a framework, and that’s where the IRP comes in.”

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.”

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