CORE creating heat

Owners of two of Cayman’s solar-powered homes insist they will not sign up for the Caribbean Utilities Company’s Consumer Owned Renewable Energy programme and would rather dump their excess electricity than sell it back to the power grid.

Richard Hew

President of CUC, Richard Hew

So far, the owner of just one home on the island has joined the CORE programme. The electricity company announced the programme in January and launched it last month.

President of CUC, Richard Hew said a second customer was considering signing up, following the first solar-powered house, owned by Frank Banks, being hooked up to the grid last month. Mr. Banks died shortly after the house went on-line.

Jim Knapp and Nancy Easterbrook also own properties that are powered by solar, and both claim that the deal being offered by the utility company makes it financially unviable for them to take part, saying that they are effectively paying CUC to buy the electricity that they produce.

‘If I create 1,000 kilowatts of electrical power a month and I consume 900 kilowatts of it, they will meter both how much I use and how much I produce.’

Despite producing more than he would use in that scenario, CUC would still charge Mr. Knapp full retail price for the electricity he consumed and then pay much less for the electricity produced by the house’s solar array.

‘At the end of the day, they get money even when I don’t use anything of theirs at all,’ he said. ‘I don’t use their wires or infrastructure. I give them 100 kilowatts of clean, no-diesel energy and I have to pay them…. What lunatic would do that?’ said Mr. Knapp, who has been a strong critic of the programme since its inception.

Mr. Hew admitted that while the CORE arrangement may not offer consumers much incentive to take part, it did not benefit CUC either.

‘What we are doing is we are charging the customer the retail rate for energy they consume. We are buying all the output from their generator for the avoided fuel and maintenance costs. That’s 12 to 13 cents. We will pay them 12 to 13 cents for everything they generate and charge them retail rates of 22 to 23 cents for everything they consume,’ he said.

CUC has argued that the fixed costs of its infrastructure – its generators, poles and wires – still have to be paid for and is used to bring electricity to consumers generating their own electricity if and when their supply is not constant, for example on cloudy days or days with no wind.

Mr. Hew said alternative energy is not subsidised by CUC or other consumers, unlike in other jurisdictions.

‘They have done that [in other jurisdictions] to get it to take hold. I am not necessarily against that but the way it is done is all customers end up paying.

The non-CORE customers would pay marginally more than the subsidised CORE customers,’ he said.

The government is considering implementing a national energy policy that may look at how renewable energy can be incentivised in Cayman.

‘Would consumers be willing to pay more for electricity today for the environmental benefit and hedge against future increases in prices of fuel? I think that is what it comes down to,’ said Mr. Hew.

In the meantime, owners of solar or wind-powered homes say they would rather just pay CUC for any electricity they end up using rather than get involved in the CORE programme.

Ms Easterbrook, who along with her husband Jay, have built a nine-condo, solar-powered development at Lighthouse Point in West Bay, said they had no intention of signing up for the programme as it stands now.

‘We have to pay to give our power to CUC… we’re essentially being charged 10 cents to give them our electricity.

‘We’re just going to dump any excess power we generate. When the batteries are full, the power will dissipate. Basically, I can have a CUC bill of zero or I can pay them to give them my excess power,’ she said.

She added that she was disappointed that any additional clean energy generated by the solar panels on the roofs of the condos or from a windmill the Easterbrooks plan to erect would go to waste, but could see no alternative at this stage.

CORE uses a net billing system whereby two meters are installed in a home, one to monitor the electricity generated by the alternative source and one to gauge how much CUC power is being used. Excess power from the alternative energy is metered and then credited against future use of CUC power.

Terms of the CORE programme have already undergone some changes following criticism after it was first announced. Originally, it imposed a limit of 10 kilowatts for residential generators, but that limit has now been removed and consumers can generate power to the maximum demand of the property.

For commercial properties, there is a maximum of 25 kilowatts or the maximum demand, whatever is less.