The recent press releases outlining the CUC buyback plan and the commitment of the Cayman Islands Government to finally allow homeowners to generate their own electricity while being connected to the national grid represents a milestone for everyone.
While it is encouraging that some type of arrangement appears imminent, and that the buyback price for electricity that homeowners put back onto the grid would be a minimum of 23 cents per kilowatt-hour, many important details are still to be revealed.
As individuals we need to keep the pressure on the Electricity Regulatory Authority to ensure that grid ties are allowed to happen on schedule (implementation by 1 September, 2008) and that the scheme be implemented in a way that allows everyone to participate.
Specifically we must insist that any equipment that CUC deems necessary to provide safe and precise interconnections, be affordable. Maybe this would be a good place for Government to show its support and commitment to the people of Cayman by covering the cost of this extra equipment.
As we are working out the arrangements that we will all have to live with, let us not overlook the Sister Islands regarding the buyback price. Currently in Little Cayman homeowners pay approximately 15 cents more per kilowatt-hour than in Grand Cayman. Obviously the buyback price in the Sister islands will have to be much higher. In the case of Little Cayman it should be somewhere in the region of 38 cents per kilowatt-hour to be fair.
In order to make grid ties available to more people, the Government should be offering incentives to bring down the cost of these systems. Solar panels, wind generators, inverters, and components of grid tie systems should be imported free of duty, or at least at a substantially reduced rate. The utilities companies receive duty concessions to bring down their costs and so should the general public in their efforts to create electricity at home.
Progressive governments around the world offer incentives such as cash back on the purchase of home power systems for those living under investor owned utility companies like most of California (our situation in Cayman), or generous buy back prices for those living under state controlled utility companies like Ontario Canada. California pays $2.50 per watt to homeowners purchasing systems, plus tax incentives.
Ontario is paying 42 cents a kilowatt-hour to anyone producing solar power, where power sells at an average of about 5.8 cents a kilowatt-hour across the province! That would be like having a government sponsored buyback price on solar power in Grand Cayman of around $2.00 per kilowatt-hour. The buyback price on home produced wind and hydro power is lower, but still twice what the cost of consumption is.
Government support is necessary to help with the upfront cost of home energy systems. If the Cayman Islands Government is serious about helping people reduce their energy costs and have protections against rising oil prices, real government incentives along these lines are essential.
While duty free imports on home energy systems seems appropriate, an equally important commitment that the Government needs to make is the legalization of electric vehicles.
Although the production, advancement, and implementation of EVs have been suppressed by the powers that be, internationally accepted street-legal electric vehicles suitable to the Cayman Islands are available for purchase right now.
While it is currently illegal to drive an electric vehicle on the roads of Cayman, reasons to change this are becoming more and more obvious. Everyone should be able to see the benefits of being allowed to drive an internationally recognized street legal vehicle with no fuel costs.
With the continuing rise in the price of gas it now makes sense to update our Traffic Law to recognise electric vehicles as an acceptable mode of transportation. With minimal Government support every driver in Cayman could have extra money in their pocket for as long as the sun keeps shining.
Government has a responsibility to ensure that Caymanians can afford to power their homes and vehicles in the future. Encourage your MLA to allow alternative energy systems to enter the country free of duty to make them more affordable, and to put pressure on CUC to allow the grid tie as soon as possible.
Look at what governments in other countries are doing to support their citizens through incentives, and ask that our government support us as well. Most importantly make sure that we are allowed to protect our standard of living by allowing helpful technology like electric vehicles. With these few simple modifications to our laws and way of thinking, we can all have sensible long-term protection against rising oil prices as well as feel better about ourselves for making and using clean electricity.
Robert M. Walker