By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Regulators yesterday granted full approval to Bahamas Power & Light's (BPL) first renewable energy plan that aims to install 119 mega watts (MW) of solar generation by 2023.
The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), in a release, said the state-owned utility monopoly must submit a revised plan every three years for its approval given that its initial solar photovoltaic (PV) roll-out - while appearing impressive - would only supply 6 percent of New Providence's energy demand by the target year.
While BPL's solar ambitions would cover 10 percent of Family Island demand by 2023, it would still leave The Bahamas some way short of the National Energy Policy's goal of generating 30 percent of the country's energy needs from renewable sources by 2033.
Given that the 'base' date for BPL's renewable energy plan is October 10, 2019, the first "revision" will be due for submission to URCA towards the end of 2022, according to the document signed yesterday by Shevonn Cambridge, its director of utilities and energy.
BPL must also provide "an annual report on the accomplishments made against its renewable energy plan" to URCA every October, thereby enabling the regulator to measure its progress following an eventful five years to bring the two sides to this stage.
The state-owned utility's first renewable energy plan, submitted on April 28, 2016, was deemed not fit for purpose by URCA when it announced the results of its review some 16 months later on August 28, 2017.
The regulator, while arguing that the plan failed to meet the Electricity Act's legal stipulations, did allow the small scale renewable generation (SSRG) initiative to proceed so that BPL clients with solar systems of 100 kilowatts (KW) or less could tie-in to the national grid while the state-owned utility revised other aspects of its proposal.
Despite "missed deadlines and a lack of responsiveness from BPL" on a revised renewable energy plan, which URCA said was potentially tantamount to breaches of the utility's licence and its Electricity Act obligations, the regulator exercised "forbearance" to ensure larger scale renewable energy installations up to 1 MW could be accommodated.
With BPL's November 2020 submissions finally "substantially addressing and incorporating the remedies" the remedies previously suggested by URCA, the regulator said: "The BPL plan proposes 119 MW of solar PV be installed by 2023; 74 MW in New Providence, and 45 MW of solar PV plus 11 MW of four-hour battery storage in the Family Islands.
"At that time just over 6 percent of demand in New Providence would be provided by solar PV, whereas in the Family Island just over 10 percent of demand would be supplied by solar PV. At a 10 percent renewable energy penetration, Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) would be required in the Family Islands to address system stability and avoid curtailment of the PV system output.
"The BPL plan details how renewable generation will be increased island by island until 2023 where, at that time, it is projected to represent an 11 percent share of the total energy generated by BPL." This would leave The Bahamas with 19 percentage points to make up in a decade to hit the National Energy Policy target.
"The BPL plan investigated potential locations for the installation of solar PV. It determined that the availability of space for roof-top solar restricted its capacity to less than 30 MW in New Providence," URCA said. "It recommended using about a third of Lake Killarney, which could facilitate up to 150 MW. In the Family Islands space is not considered to be a constraint."
Computer analysis of BPL's plan "highlighted several network issues and the actions required to resolve them, some of which are significant", although these were not detailed in URCA's document.
"It was not clear in the BPL plan if the necessary reinforcements to the system were included in the scenarios considered and recommended. No costs were provided for the remedies. The BPL plan did not include a similar analysis for the Family Islands," URCA added.
Despite these concerns, it found that BPL's latest submission "was a significant improvement over BPL’s original submission in 2016, and represented a plausible intention to meet the NEP..... objectives.
"It comprehensively evaluated the technical and cost factors in setting out its plan to increase the percentage of renewable energy in its generation mix. And it set out the actions required to accommodate the proposed renewable generation on the network."
BPL consultants, in a report previously seen by Tribune Business, called for this nation to “pursue” the installation of 119.08 megawatts (MW) in solar energy by 2023 if it is to get back on course with its renewable energy commitments.
WSP, in a report produced in August 2019, estimated that the solar roll-out would produce around $58m in “avoided” electricity generation costs Bahamas-wide over the five years through 2023 if targets were hit, and its recommendations followed, in a bid to increase the “less than one percent” share of the energy mix currently enjoyed by renewables.
“The associated capital costs are $203.7m for solar PV and $25.3m for the battery storage. These investments result in an annual savings of $3.7m for BPL comparing to the BAU (business as usual) case," the WSP report said.
"The Government of The Bahamas aims to achieve a significant renewable energy penetration by 2030 in order to replace expensive generation from fossil fuels and reduce dependency on fuel imports.
"According to the National Energy Plan, the target is to achieve 30 percent of electricity generation from renewable sources of the total generation portfolio. Given that the current renewable share is less than 1 percent of the overall generation, an ambitious and fast track programme is required to achieve this target.
The BPL consultants, meanwhile, said “larger quantities of solar PV facilities” will have to be installed on New Providence and the Family Islands between 2024 and 2030 if The Bahamas is to meet its renewable energy targets.
Their report also refers to a 7 MW waste-to-energy plant coming online at the New Providence landfill in 2023, and suggests that the potential $130-$160 per mega watt hour price for selling renewable energy to BPL is “attractive for this type of power plant in the Caribbean region”.