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Soaring Energy Prices Push Anguilla Toward Renewables

Desmond Brown

The Anguilla Electricity Company (ANGLEC) has long been the sole power provider on the island. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Anguilla Electricity Company (ANGLEC) has long been the sole power provider on the island. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

THE VALLEY, Anguilla, Mar 26 2012 (IPS) - The 15,000 residents of this British Overseas Territory had always prided themselves on having perhaps the most reliable and efficient source of electricity in the Caribbean.

But in recent times, electricity cuts blamed on their inability to meet the monthly bills from the sole provider, the Anguilla Electricity Company (ANGLEC), have frequently plunged the 91 sq. km. island into darkness.

Now under pressure from the islanders to ease their burden with more affordable electricity prices than the present 0.63 cents per kilowatt hour, the government has established a Renewable Energy Project it hopes will do just that.

“Our exclusive reliance on conventional energy sources, i.e., diesel fuel, is the primary reason for the high prices we pay for electricity,” Evan Gumbs, the minister of utilities, told Parliament.

“If our dependence on diesel fuel is reduced then we will see a correspondent decrease in the price of electricity.

“It must be remembered that Anguilla has no control over the price of diesel fuel in the world market and thus has no control over its imported price. It therefore follows to a large extent that we in Anguilla have little or no control over the price we pay for electricity, unless and until we reduce our reliance on it,” Gumbs added.

The government has already made several strides on the path towards integrating renewable energy technologies into the island’s electricity system, putting in place an Alternative Energy Committee, approving the Alternative Energy Bill and establishing the Anguilla Renewable Energy Office (AREO).

It has also been in dialogue with CASTALIA Strategic Advisors – a Washington-based consultancy firm with vast experience in renewables which has been contracted by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), a UK-based development funding agency, to assist government with the project.

A team from CASTALIA has been here for several weeks working on the first phase of the project, which involves making amendments to the island’s electricity legislation to give effect to the integration of the renewable energy technologies.

“CASTALIA’s objectives include helping to implement key elements of the National Energy and Climate Change Policy by recommending how to amend electricity legislation to integrate both large and small-scale renewable energy,” said Laura Berman, a senior analyst at the firm.

“One of the primary reasons (of the renewable project) is to reduce electricity cost and price volatility. The idea is to do this while also increasing security and enhancing environmental sustainability,” she said.

AREO chairman David Carty told IPS the whole energy idea had its impetus from concerns about climate change.

“I keep on saying that the energy crisis is the climate crisis and the climate crisis is the energy crisis. What islands present to this issue, and this is true for the entire Caribbean, is an opportunity to figure out how renewables interact on a closed grid,” Carty said.

“If you found a village of 15,000 people in the middle of Alabama (United States), they may be buying power from as far away as Nevada – it could be hydroelectric power, it could be renewable energy from Florida, it could be nuclear energy from Mississippi, it’s a plethora of sources.”

He said the problem that islands present is that they are islands, disconnected from each other, and this means that their entire supply has to be local.

“This is why it is so expensive because diesel is the cheapest form of generating quick and easy and efficiency electrical power but diesel is fossil-based fuel and apart from that the price of oil is back up to 122 dollars,” Carty pointed out.

He said farmers would be among those who would gain the most from the new initiative, noting that while Anguilla has “fairly fertile soil in pockets all over the island, the agriculture sector collapsed centuries ago because the island has always had a drought problem.”

His office is proposing the establishment of a wind farm on the island and he believes this could put Anguilla in a position to revolutionise farming by giving water to farmers at little or no cost.

“As we all know, you can’t store electricity, it has to be used when it is generated. Our argument is we have solved our domestic water problem by establishing a reverse osmosis plant that takes sea water and turns it into fresh water, but the reverse osmosis plant uses enormous amounts of electricity and 60 cents of the dollar in the operation of the reverse osmosis plant is electricity,” Carty told IPS.

“So what if when the windmills are bellowing away at one o’clock and two o’clock in the morning that power was diverted straight to the reverse osmosis plant where we can store the water? In effect, storing the water is storing electricity.”

Pointing out that the government is strapped for cash, he said his office was instrumental in getting help from CDKN which has provided 100,000 dollars for the consultants.

“They were broke, they had no money and it takes proper energy economists along with engineers to figure out how we are going to start the transition from what we have to renewables,” Carty said.

“This significant step that Anguilla is making is not as a result of government borrowing money from a development bank, it’s not as a result of negotiations with another government. It is a non- governmental organisation that has a keen interest in climate that is helping us solve an electrical problem where 90 percent of the people don’t give a hoot about the climate.

“But like me, they (CDKN) understand that if you solve the energy issue, you make a giant step towards solving the climate issue,” Carty added.

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