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Rising fossil fuel prices are driving up the cost of electricity in Barbados, the latest Caribbean country to embark on a path towards greater use of renewable energy and a more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable economy.

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Choking on Rising Fuel Costs for Electricity, Barbados Launches Multiple Source–Multiple Use Renewable Energy Plan

Rising fossil fuel prices are driving up the cost of electricity in Barbados, the latest Caribbean country to embark on a path towards greater use of renewable energy and a more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable economy.

Photo courtesy: NationNews

Another sign of the rapidly changing (for the better) energy landscape: the southeastern Caribbean island nation of Barbados is taking an integrated, multiple source-multiple use approach as it launches a program to shift away from its almost total reliance on imported fossil fuel imports to clean, homegrown renewable sources for electricity generation and other uses.

The Barbadian cabinet on April 5 approved the US$188.5 million Mangrove Pond Green Energy Complex, according to a Caribbean Journal report. The complex is to include solar power and wind power facilities, a new Mechanical Maintenance Facility, a Waste-to-Energy Facility, and a Landfill Gas Management System.

In total, the Barbadian government expects the Mangrove Pond Green Energy Complex to produce more than 25 MW of clean electrical power that can be sold on to the island nation’s grid, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Barbados relies almost entirely (96%) on fuel oil and diesel to generate electricity; 90% of it imported. Barbados’s bill for oil imports in 2009 and 2010 totaled some $230 million, which amounts to nearly 6% of national GDP, about what it spends on education, Senator Darcy Boyce was quoted as saying in a Barbados Today article.

Barbados’s Sustainable Energy Framework

The government intends to reduce Barbados’s oil import bill significantly, Boyce, who heads the Prime Minister’s Energy Office, told attendees gathered for the launch of the Energy Efficiency Awareness Programme of the Sustainable Energy Framework for Barbados Pilot Project.

The aim of the Sustainable Energy Framework for Barbados Pilot Project is to reduce fossil fuel use by some 30% by bringing renewable energy resources online, and to reduce electricity demand by over 21% by implementing energy efficiency measures and technologies over a 20-year period. The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) is contributing $1 million in investment grants and loans through the World Bank Group’s Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Rising global market prices for crude oil and derivatives have been rising consistently for several years, putting greater financial pressure on local businesses and residents alike. The direct effect rising fuel costs have on ratepayers’ pocketbooks and businesses’ operating budgets is compounded by the indirect effects, as they flow through into prices of all imports and are passed on to consumers.

In what is becoming an annual occurrence, the chief marketing officer for investor-owned power company Barbados Light & Power (BLP), the island’s sole provider of electricity, last April informed the government and public that the rising world price of oil meant it would raise electricity rates 10%.

Subsidizing Fossil Fuels

In an attempt to keep residents’ electricity rates lower than they otherwise would be, the Barbados government covers the rising fuel oil cost component of BLP’s operating costs through a subsidy program called the Fuel Clause Adjustment (FCA).

This only amounts to a bit of financial sleight-of-hand, as the money to cover the cost of the subsidies ultimately has to come from taxpayers or by the government taking on debt, however. With the April 2011 rate increase, the Fuel Clause Adjustment portion of Barbadians’ electricity bills reached 45.3897 cents-per-kilowatt-hour (kWh), BLP’s Stephen Worme told Barbados’s NationNews.

Even with the government subsidy reducing this amount (by some 45% no less) the average cost of electricity in Barbados is around 25 cents per kWh.

“Take Your Meat Out Mih Rice”

Renewable energy isn’t the only substitute for fuel oil and diesel Barbados is working on. The Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) governments in March reaffirmed their commitment to the Eastern Caribbean Gas Pipeline Company (ECGPC) project, according to a Trinidad Express report. The two Caribbean island nations’ prime ministers announced that the natural gas pipeline project “should become a reality ‘within the next 18 months or so.'”

The 300-kilometer (~180 mile) ECGPC pipeline is to transport some 30 million standard cubic feet (scf) of natural gas per day to BLP. Project plans call for construction work is to begin in 2013 and end in 2015.

Critics point to the vulnerability, environmental risks and costs of the submarine natural gas pipeline to argue that their are better alternative energy options for Bajans, as well as to the fact that it amounts to substituting dependence on one imported fossil fuel for another, albeit a cleaner burning one.

Moreover, both the T&T and Barbados governments are contributing financially to the project, though private sector players are to come up with the bulk of the investment capital. Added to this, critics say, is the fact that Barbados has no other stake in the project other than being a consumer. ECGPC is a consortium comprised of US-based Beowulf Energy LLC and First Reserve Infrastructure Fund (60%); Guardian Holdings Ltd (15%), the Unit Trust Corp. of Trinidad & Tobago (15%) and T&T’s state-owned National Gas Co. (10%).

Multiple Renewable Energy Sources, Multiple Uses

In the meantime, Barbados is moving forward with its ambitious renewable energy and environmental enhancement plans. While the Mangrove Green Energy Complex’s solar and wind power facilities will produce clean, renewable electricity for local use, the waste-to-energy plant is expected to help deal with the island nation’s growing waste problem. It’s slated to process some 350 metric tons of solid waste a day, generating between 10 MW-14 MW of electricity. The greenhouse gases captured by the Landfill Gas Management System during waste-to-energy conversion process will be quantified and sold as carbon credits.

Environmental remediation is another aspect of the project. Also included in the project plan is the Mangrove Pond Beautification program, which is designed to reduce the environmental impact of the landfill, including foul odors, as well as enhance its public image by upgrading and “beautifying” the solid waste treatment cells. This includes installation of a clay polyvinyl liner, along with landscaping.

When it comes to its new renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability drive, the Barbadian government intends to lead by example. In September, it announced plans to retrofit all its buildings with solar panels and make them more energy efficient.

The government pays more than US$30 million a year for electricity. Savings from the program would “release resources either for saving, or for meeting some of the other critical social needs, such as providing nursery school education for our three-to-five year-old children in our natin,” Prime Minister Freundel Stuart was quoted as saying in a Caribbean360 news report.

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.


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