Reducing the cost of energy is a priority of the New Democratic Party (NDP). Energy impacts everything: cost of living for all the members of our population, particularly the poor, and it is equally critical to the cost of doing business and therefore creating jobs. Whether it is commercial or industrial businesses or your home, energy must be used. We have to find mechanisms to reduce the cost of energy for the benefit of our population, and to improve the competitiveness of businesses.
One of the ways to reduce energy cost is to develop our renewable energy sources. So, we can reduce the amount of expensive imported diesel fuel used to produce electricity. The Unity Labour Party (ULP) government has failed to articulate a vision to develop and implement a sustainable renewable energy programme for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Early in the life of the ULP administration, plans for a wind farm were announced by VINLEC. We have no wind farm; but in the same period, wind farms have gone up in other islands of the Caribbean. Further, the government has not increased our hydro output, which we know can be increased. What they have done is to spend a large sum of money on solar photovoltaics that will have no impact on the price of electricity in this country.
Further, the geothermal project was a disaster. The government was desperate to score political mileage from the geothermal project. No wonder it collapsed. We were told that it would have been the game changer in energy for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The question is, did the government follow the advice of the experts? It must be noted, that in the mid-1990s, the NDP administration studied the feasibility of geothermal energy and it was confirmed that the north western quadrant of St. Vincent on the flanks of the Soufriere volcano was favourable for the discovery of commercially exploitable geothermal resources. This information was available to the ULP government. Then, why was drilling not done in the area identified in the study?
Also, we did not see the benefits of the much touted Petro Caribe. Vincentians were told that they would have seen reduced electricity prices. Petro Caribe died a natural death. Recently, we have begun to hear about the resurrection of it. We are waiting to see what benefit will be derived from Petro Caribe this time.
NDP’s strategic plan for energy development
The NDP has the vision and a strategic plan for energy development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with a major focus on renewable energy. Our approach will put energy sustainability at front and center of the national energy equation, which will translate into reduced foreign exchange outflows, lower energy prices and improved competitiveness of the private sector.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has long benefited from renewable energy in its national energy balance, in the form of hydro power. Hydroelectric power plants commissioned in the 1950s, 60s and 80s contributed to the economic growth of the country while keeping electricity bills low.
Since the Cumberland hydroelectricity system was commissioned in 1987, there has been no major new sustainable energy project implemented in St Vincent and the Grenadines. As a result, our country’s dependence on imported petroleum products has significantly increased and electricity bills have skyrocketed.
Consequently, the trends are all heading in the wrong direction: our country’s dependence on expensive, imported petroleum products is increasing. And, electricity prices have doubled during the past twenty years and our energy security is threatened.
Hydroelectricity: Within recent years it has been established that suitable hydro resources remain available for development on mainland St Vincent. The NDP will ensure that these identified resources are reviewed, with a view to maximizing the economically viable utilization of the country’s hydro resources.
Solar Energy: The present government, through VINLEC, is following an inefficient approach to solar photovoltaics (PV) development, which does not optimize the overall development of renewable energy in the country and does not provide sufficient incentive for private consumers to invest in PV. This sub-optimal approach will be discontinued in favour of a policy approach that puts the strategic maximization of renewable energy at the center of the picture and will encourage local private sector involvement. Low-income households will not be left out. The NDP will partner with an established enterprise to provide small, self-contained PV electricity systems that can provide basic lighting and phone charging.
The use of solar energy for water heating will be expanded through the application of a coherent programme of tax and financial incentives to homeowners, hotels, businesses and institutions. Hotels, businesses and households will be able to apply for tax write-offs on the purchase of solar water heaters in the year of acquisition, and local lending institutions will be facilitated to access low-interest funding, available for on-lending for private solar energy development.
Wind Energy: Measurements in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have already indicated that wind is a readily-available energy resource. However, it seems that previously identified wind energy sites on mainland St. Vincent are now no longer available due to their proximity to the airport site at Argyle. The NDP will study, using regional best-practices as a model, the options for the development of wind energy on St Vincent and in the Grenadines
Energy Efficiency: Whatever the source of our energy, it needs to be used more efficiently. The NDP’s vision is to move the nation towards adopting a culture of energy efficiency. This will be led by example from government level and will involve a comprehensive programme targeted at the transport, household, business and government sectors.
Electrical interconnection of our island grids: To improve the efficiency in the provision of energy on a multi-island state such as ours, the NDP will work through VINLEC to undertake a technical and economic feasibility study of the development of an interconnected national power grid, which will ultimately be 80% powered by renewable energy. The NDP is committed to providing cheaper energy for Vincentians.