By JEFFREY TODD September 13, 2013 at 3:46 PM
ORLANDO, Florida – A leading voice for renewable energy in the Caribbean says the technology will not take root and survive without key policies from the government.
Chairman of the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF) Jerry Butler said there has been a great deal of "rhetoric" concerning the future of the sector. While the theory and technology is there, The Bahamas, along with others in the region, have been slow in making decisions that will cause a fundamental shift in energy supply.
He told Guardian Business that "conventional energy producers" must also be brought to the table to speed up the process and allow all industries to benefit from the anticipated profits.
"Renewable energy is worth at least $150 million per year in The Bahamas, or 20 percent of what the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) is spending on fuel," he said.
"In terms of incentives for The Bahamas, the first is you make a quantum leap between the cost of using conventional energy and the savings of using renewable energy."
Butler, one of more than 18,000 attendees at Solar Power International in Orlando, said the conference promotes the creation of power-purchase agreements and pricing mechanisms with the private sector to spur growth among the island nations.
Leslie Miller, the chairman of BEC, has spent the last few days touring the 900 or so booths at the event and meeting with specific renewable energy firms. He said it is in the "best interest" of the BEC board to see "what is out there".
The board has said it is committed to bringing down the high cost of electricity in The Bahamas and providing relief to the nation’s costly dependence on oil and other fossil fuels.
"Whatever technology we feel is applicable, certainly we will look at that and make recommendations to the government," he explained.
Miller said he is open to radical reform, including the introduction of carbon credits and allowing homes and businesses to place solar panels on roofs and sell surplus energy back to the grid.
That agenda, however, could be delayed. Miller noted that the corporation intends on spending $300 million on a revamp of the Clifton Pier station, effectively boosting efficiency in an effort to bring costs down. After that, the public entity wishes to bring on renewable energy elements.
A move to renewable energy may come sooner if a power-purchase agreement comes to fruition, whereby BEC is not required to come up with a large capital investment.
Yuette Sands, a board member at BEC, told Guardian Business that the company is looking at solar, waste energy and bio-fuel. Wind energy is also in the mix, she added.
"The corporation would not be minded to invest in the technologies, but we are open to taking the power it would generate. It would not be a focus to take on large capital investments. There are internal needs that would take priority over the integration of these technologies," according to Sands.
Perhaps one of the more high profile renewable energy firms at the table is Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (OTEC), the U.S.-based company that signed a memorandum of understanding under the previous administration to build two large-scale plants.
OTEC said it will invest hundreds of millions in the plants and hire hundreds of Bahamians.
Sands told Guardian Business this proposal is "part of the review".
"There is lots going on. We have an aggressive board and government to drive down the cost of power."