Little has been heard from the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) on a bold plan by Emera Barbados, owners of the Barbados Light & Power (BL&P), to become a finance house-cum energy supplier.
Emera, the Canadian power giant, which has taken a major foothold in the supply of electricity in the Caribbean, from The Bahamas, down to Barbados, has sought permission from the FTC to launch a ground-breaking project.
The plan includes lending consumers, in some cases as much as $12 000, to upgrade to energy efficient systems including the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) packages, air conditioning, LED lighting, and more.
Included in the application to the regulator was permission to attach these renewable energy loans on to consumers’ monthly electricity bills, in a programme that the BL&P called the Customer Energy Savings Financing Programme (CESF).
BL&P in its application is offering to advance to customers the funds to complete certain energy efficiency retrofitting and renewable energy installation projects such as LED lighting, energy efficient air conditioner units and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.
Moreover, the power company would allow customers to access funding to complete meter socket base replacements and uninterruptable power supply (UPS) devices.
We understand that such matters are weighty, time consuming, and must be carefully assessed and adjudicated. But given the degree of pressure consumers are under from sky-high prices of food and energy, one would believe that this would be among the top priorities of the utilities regulator.
Barbadians are, expectedly, wary about the near $4 per litre they are forced to pay for gasoline. It represents the highest that consumers have been asked to pay for petrol in years, and they are crying out for relief.
The expense associated with purchasing gasoline has become so prohibitive that it has been argued by some that it is cheaper to park their vehicles and utilise public transport.
Of course, the rapid spread of coronavirus cases on the island in recent weeks would have dissuaded some from this idea.
Because an important component of our electricity bills includes the fuel adjustment clause, when gas prices rise, there is a concomitant increase in the light bills.
And so, in spite of the efforts to reduce energy consumption in our homes and businesses, those actions may have little impact in reducing electricity bills at the end of the month.
Pushing Barbadians to make greater use of solar energy and other sources of renewable energy such as wind, will have to be dramatically increased if the island is to meet the self-imposed target of 100 per cent renewable energy and to become carbon neutral by 2030.
The year 2030 may seem like a long way from today. But in fact, that is less than nine years for the country to fully transform itself and rid our economy of our dependence on fossil fuels to generate energy.
According to Barbados’ National Energy Policy 2019 to 2030, we have committed to creating an energy revolution that is expected to enrich the lives of all citizens.
Acknowledging that due to our energy import-dependence, the slightest movements upward in the price of fuel can push our near $700 million import bill into the billion-dollar realm.
The Energy Policy indicates that currently, more than 90 per cent of the energy used for electricity production in Barbados is derived from carbon-based fuels which is a drain on foreign exchange resources.
The ambitious policy aims to have just over half of the energy used on the island derived from renewable energy sources by 2023.
We can be forgiven if the last two years have resulted in many targets going off track due to our pre-occupation with securing the financial and human resources needed in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
With just two years to go, we are nowhere near the 52 per cent target. However, despite the massive distraction that has been created by the pandemic, it is clear that BL&P are keeping their eyes on the goals of the National Energy Plan.
Its desire to get the Customer Energy Savings Financing Programme off the ground is a key indicator that the company is preparing itself well ahead for the transition.
The millions of dollars the company has invested in the Lamberts, St Lucy renewable energy project suggest that BL&P is not going to allow itself to be caught flat-footed even if the state’s action plan has been stalled somewhat by this devastating pandemic.