Christiana Sciaudone of Recharge news reports on challenges facing renewable energy development in the Caribbean:
Caribbean islands are likely to suffer greatly at the hands of climate change. But their progress towards adopting renewable energy has been sluggish, even if the mission to be free from dependency on expensive fossil fuels is politically desirable and economically essential.
Monopolistic state-owned utilities are often considered the root cause of stagnation in what should be buoyant renewables markets, given the abundance of sun, sea and wind. But speculative developers with questionable intentions, or “raiders of the Caribbean”, as one Nevis politician puts it, are also to blame for holding back progress.
The most recent incident is the case of the much-anticipated Nevis geothermal project.
The geothermal project promises to highlight what other Caribbean islands could do: building indigenous renewables capacity and sharing it with neighbours — and ending the stranglehold of the fossil-fuel industry.
Nevisians pay about $0.37 per kWh for electricity — twice the rate in the US — and geothermal is seen as a way to lower bills.
Kerry McDonald, a lawyer from the US state of Colorado, founded West Indies Power with a promise to build a 10MW geothermal plant. He obtained a 25-year power-purchase agreement (PPA) in 2007 with the Nevis Island administration, which is controlled by the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP).
The opposition party, the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), has criticised the secrecy surrounding details of the PPA, but the deal was good enough to attract the attention of major sources of finance, including Scotia Bank and the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank of the US.
Now it seems McDonald has left the island, all attempts to contact him have failed and the opposition party, the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) blames the NRP for signing up with a novice — alleging that McDonald has not built any geothermal plants before. “This is a cautionary tale,” says one renewables industry source.
Caribbean governments are easily bamboozled because they have not had the necessary experience with renewables. Indeed, resistance to green power was prevalent throughout the region until recently.
But telling the honest developers from the raiders or the dreamers remains a challenge. Hopefully, the West Indies Power debacle will be a lesson learned.
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