Letters to the Editor: Solar power in Cayman

I would like to congratulate CUC on admitting the CORE agreement mark one was a complete failure with only three people signing up for it, well there was actual four people but I withdrew my application after reading the fine print and found out it was waste of time.

Sadly CORE mark 2 has the same faults as mk1 because CUC does not want to purchase your extra electricity produced by the renewable generation system; they want to buy all of it and sell it back to you at full rate whether you use it in your house or not.

CUC’s excuses for this run from feeble to totally pathetic as they claim that if you have renewable power you need to still pay the distribution system that you are not using and if it is not sunny you may need CUC as a backup. Well my answer to CUC; do you charge all the part time property owners a surcharge on their residences when they are off island in case they return and suddenly want power? No. Does CUC charge me a surcharge in the winter months because I designed my living space to be passively cooled and I only run my AC in the summer months so that if there might be a humid day that I might run it in the winter months? No. Does CUC charge me a surcharge because I have a solar hot water heater? No. So why is the CORE agreement written so that I have to sell all my power to CUC and buy it back?

Next point: What does it say in the Cayman Islands’ electricity laws? It states in the law that consumers are allowed to produce their own renewable power and it also states that CUC must provide power to the consumer on the Island. However, it does not say that CUC must buy back ALL the power produced and then sell it back at retail rate nor does it say you have to sell any of it to them.

The CORE agreement presently written is unfair to small producers who do not have the money or want to produce all their own power but just supplement the low wattage elements of their system. The typical size of a domestic grid tied system in other parts of the world are 3 to 4 kWh, which would supply your lights, fans and sockets but not large draw items i.e. AC electric hot water tanks, dryers etc. The average person in Cayman could afford this as it is about the same price as a new average car but produces free power for 20 years thus providing a return on investment.

The CORE agreement can be easily be saved by a simple rewording of the contract and confirmation of buy back rate. The new version would state CUC would only buy the excess power produced at the point of it entering the grid system and so any power produced by the producer, which is consumed or stored on the property, is the producer’s power and it is free to use. Any power purchased would still be at retail rate.

There are two typical buy back rates used in the electricity industry – net metering and generation rate. I personally think net metering is unfair as CUC has the right to make a profit being a private sector business and there is a generating rate – which is the cost to produce, maintain the equipment plus the financing to purchase the generating equipment and structures to house them. Most power companies are made up of two internal companies or divisions – one is the generating side and the other is the transmission and distribution side.

Both schemes are easy to administer. As net metering you simply read the meter each month and either credit or charge the customer on the amount of power they use/sell. The generating would be the same cost as CUC pays for its power plus the fuel cost; each month CUC would charge the producer the difference on the generating rate and retail rate for net power used or credits to the system. As the fuel cost is a pass though rate, then this would be only charged on the excess power purchased/credited each month and therefore an oil price does not affect the CORE rates.

My personal option is that CUC should offer net metering to residential customers as this would be cheaper for CUC to administer and generating rate commercial customers. This would open up the market place for non-fossil fuel alternatives as there would a fair and level playing field for generating power in Cayman. Any company could sell power to CUC at the same rate; no matter how it was produced.

As the rest of world gets to grips with encouraging alternative non-fossil fuel power sources to combat climate change and meet international lowering of green houses gases, it is a real shame that one of the few places in the World that will be dramatically affected by climate change has a power company offering a Trojan horse renewable deal to its consumers, which does nothing to promote solar or make it any more affordable for the average person.

The Government should be taking a proactive view as power supply is a national security issue; especially when your main industries require power for their operations. There are no reasons why every business in Cayman could not have their hot water and daytime lighting powered by the sun through the use of solar power and LED lights, thus providing long term savings and reducing the air pollution and health problems for their employees. This can be done now legally without a CORE agreement by providing an off grid power system with an auto transfer switch to CUC instead of a generator.

I am designing an office that will be net zero energy and near zero waste for a project to demonstrate this can be can done. Once complete, we will publish accounts and energy savings to educate others in the use of high performance affordable buildings to combat climate change.

Sam Small