This month the government took an important step toward encouraging green energy, but the territory still has a long way to go in overcoming its embarrassingly outdated overreliance on fossil fuels.
Hurricane Irma, which decimated the power grid and left thousands without electricity for months, highlighted the urgency of the comprehensive energy reform that should be a top priority during the recovery process.
The renewable energy regulations that took effect Nov. 1 are a good start. They should help encourage homeowners and businesses to use solar and other alternatives, in part by allowing them to sell electricity back to the grid once the BVI Electricity Corporation sets up the proper systems.
Together with a related law passed in 2015, the regulations replace outdated legislation that for decades actually discouraged alternative energy in the territory.
The change, however, was much too long in coming despite lobbying from advocacy groups and promises from elected leaders for more than a decade.
As the VI stalled, its neighbours pulled ahead. In the United States VI, for example, some 20 percent of generation capacity is already derived from solar. Here, the great majority of energy still comes from fossil fuels, with leaders in late 2016 placing the number above 97 percent, where it most likely remains.
In an archipelago where sun, wind and wave energy are abundant — and all fossil fuels must be imported — this state of affairs is embarrassing at best.
The new regulations also represent a belated step toward fulfilling the goals laid out in the energy policy approved by government in late 2016. That document promises to decrease fossil fuel imports by 20 percent by 2021 and to supply 30 percent of the territory’s energy by renewable means by 2023, among other pledges.
But the clock is ticking, and such goals may well be impossible at this late stage. To even come close, the BVIEC will need to set up a grid-tie system immediately, and the new regulations will need to be accompanied as soon as possible by complementary measures like duty exemptions and other incentives designed to encourage green energy businesses and consumers alike.
Such efforts must an integral part of the recovery process. To that end, the government’s Recovery to Development Plan says some of the right things, promising to create a “near carbon neutral society” by installing LED lights and solar panels; drafting a “resilient national energy transition strategy;” exploring the possibility of using sargassum to produce energy, and other steps.
These ideas are sound, but the document doesn’t include specifics such as timelines and funding information. Moving forward, then, the BVIEC should work closely with central government and other stakeholders to establish a workable plan for the short and long term.
Given the territory’s small size and heavy reliance on tourism and the environment, it should be a leader in green energy. Currently, it is far behind.