A prominent businessman made a startling and controversial statement this week. The Most Honourable Ralph Bizzy Williams accused regional governments of not trusting the private sector.
His frustrations were aired during the opening of the IRENA-Caribbean for Fostering Energy Transition Investments and Finance Conference at Hilton Barbados.
“The fundamental problem that we have in the Caribbean is that the governments do not trust the private sector. And I can’t understand it because I don’t try to trick anybody and I pay my taxes…. So why is it that the private sector is regarded as a bunch of villains?” the head of Williams Industries said.
He lamented that he had been waiting for two years for the Barbados Government to approve a proposal to install photovoltaic systems at each of the island’s secondary schools.
“We are not trying to trick the Ministry of Housing or the Ministry of Education. All we want to do is to convert all of the secondary schools in Barbados into learning centres for the students to observe what is going on and to see the results . . . . We have been waiting for approval on this for two years,” Williams said.
But anyone who pays attention to this accomplished businessman and his renewable energy stance would know that he has been pushing the sustainable energy path in Barbados for quite some time now.
We are not in a position to determine whether there is merit in his claim that the Government does trust the private sector. However, we empathise with him as it relates to the many delays in moving our country in a direction that Prime Minister Mia Mottley has admitted is the way forward.
The slow pace at which things are moving seems to be Williams’ pet peeve, and rightly so. He explained that ten years ago, an application had been submitted to construct a ‘collapsible’ wind turbine but this was refused.
“I don’t know what is going on, but you all have to make up your mind on whether you want the private sector to do what it can do, the way they could do it,” he said.
Williams also pointed out that the island now has four wind turbines in operation in St John which took five years to be given the green light.
For about a decade, Williams has been voicing his concerns.
In 2016, he admitted his frustrations with the Government’s handling of the renewable energy sector. At the time, he detailed what he regarded as weaknesses in a system that is “saddled by a regime of licensing and permissions” and a regime in which financial institutions are less interested in lending for renewable energy projects.
At the same energy forum this week, Senior Minister and former Minister of Energy Kerrie Symmonds lamented that Barbados’ strides in the renewable energy sector were being significantly hampered.
Outlining that 85 megawatts of renewable energy had been installed on the grid since the introduction of the Government’s 2019 energy policy – constituting between 12 and 15 per cent of the country’s electricity demand – he said the reliability and stability of the grid need to be guaranteed through battery storage.
He explained: “The reality of our experience has been that there was tremendous disappointment and, indeed, tremendous delay as a result of the fact that there is simply an unavailability due to the consolidation of production and due to the consolidation and prioritisation of sales efforts in the global north, as opposed to small island developing states predominantly to be found in the south. Stripped naked of all of the finesse, it means simply that though we would have wanted to be able to access battery storage as a first option, it simply was not available to us in this part of the world.”
Symmonds said the current government had waived duties and taxes on electric vehicles and hybrids to facilitate the greening of the transportation sector, but many interested persons were placed on waiting lists of up to a year to own one.
Whatever the hold-up, decisive action has to be taken to ensure we take serious steps towards full renewable energy. There are several reasons why harnessing the power of renewable energy sources is so vital for our future.
Perhaps most importantly, renewables produce little or no harmful emissions when used, so the clean energy they provide will play a crucial role in preventing further global warming.
Action has to be taken sooner rather than later.