If Wednesday’s presentation is any indication, then the National Energy Policy set to go before Cabinet in the first quarter of 2012 will address issues from the mundane to the ambitious – from building code revisions to goals for alternative energy production. Subcommittees formed in November 2010 will submit their draft reports to the National Energy Policy Committee in two weeks, with public consultation and policy implementation scheduled to take place next year.
The overview given by the committee at the Chamber of Commerce’s headquarters and broadcast live on the radio was light on specifics, but did cover a range of topics related to energy conservation, energy production, infrastructure and public education. The topic of nuclear energy even made a brief appearance, though with plenty of caveats.
“We’re not done yet, and what you did see today is a very plain-vanilla type. There is a whole banana split that we’re working on, if you’ll pardon the expression,” said Louis Boucher, chair of the Electricity, Renewable Energy and Wastewater subcommittee.
Cayman’s energy use
The new National Energy Policy would cover the 20-year period from 2012 to 2032. Committee Chair and West Bay MLA Cline Glidden said in 2010, electricity companies sold Cayman Islands customers 572.5 Gigawatt hours, with 553.8 GWh going to Grand Cayman customers. About 3.9 per cent of Cayman’s electricity demand was used for water desalinisation.
Practically 100 per cent of Cayman’s electricity comes from imported diesel fuel (99.99 per cent). In 2010, Cayman imported 33.29 million imperial gallons of diesel fuel, with 32 million of that being consumed by Caribbean Utilities Company (about 95 per cent of the total). By comparison, last year Cayman imported 9.22 million imperial gallons of gasoline.
Mr. Glidden said ‘non-firm’ (or intermittent) renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, could contribute about 15 per cent of Cayman’s peak load. ‘Firm’ renewable energy sources, such as waste-to-energy and ocean thermal energy conversion, could contribute some 35 per cent of Cayman’s peak load.
Mr. Boucher, who is deputy managing director of the Electricity Regulatory Authority, said his subcommittee explored different forms of alternative energy that may be best suited for Cayman.
“I personally believe, based on the economics, wind is the most viable alternative for the island,” he said. “But I mean there’s other issues with wind turbines as well. It’s not a perfect world, but we’ve got to try to find the best solution.”
While the government’s proposed Doppler radar station sunk plans for an East End wind farm project, Mr. Boucher said there are other locations on Grand Cayman that could accommodate wind turbines.
Steve Powell, energy manager at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, said, “I have to say I am concerned that there is no discussion of independent power production. We have a large resort with high demand for electricity, steam and hot water. Independent power production – not to be competitive but for our own needs – makes a lot of sense for us.”
He said the Ritz-Carlton was willing to work in synergy with CUC on this project, and that the electricity generated at the Ritz would go to the resort during peak times.
“I don’t understand why that wasn’t in this,” he said.
Mr. Boucher said a Camana Bay representative had broached similar issues, and that the subcommittee did discuss it. “Certainly we’re not done yet, and we’ll look back and make sure we cover those issues as well,” he said.
Presenters also raised the idea of other forms of energy production, including liquefied natural gas and even nuclear energy. Both of those sources would entail significant upfront costs and implementation challenges – and in the case of nuclear energy, issues related to legality, security and political unpalatability. However, the low electricity costs of a nuclear plant, once established, make it alluring, in theory.
“It actually is a very attractive and economic solution for the future,” said Chamber representative James Tibbetts, who is chair of the Petroleum Products and Transport subcommittee.
“My subcommittee has actually done a SWOT analysis on nuclear, and we do see it as a viable alternative,” Mr. Boucher said. “Obviously you put one small nuclear reactor on the Island, and I mean, maybe CUC would run it, I don’t know.”
Mr. Boucher said current ERA law forbids nuclear energy in Cayman, and James Tibbetts said Cayman is not a jurisdiction to which nuclear reactors can be sold.
The type of nuclear plant referred to is a new generation of proposed miniature-sized plants proposed for years by several companies, some of whom are applying to the US government for the right to build them in the US.
Relatively immediate measures could be undertaken in Cayman to increase energy independence, by reducing the amount of energy used in Cayman.
Robert Lewis, assistant director of planning in the Department of Planning, is chairman of the Construction, Buildings and Land Use subcommittee. Mr. Lewis said his group has examined adopting an energy-efficiency code for buildings, based on, for example, the International Energy Conservation Code.
Energy savings could also be achieved through the promotion of zoning diversity, mixed-use development and home-based businesses. Mr. Lewis also talked about establishing guidelines for developing land in a way that supports public transportation use, and for incorporating energy conservation and efficiency benefits of connectivity when designing subdivisions.
Mr. Lewis also said opportunities should be pursued to create or enhance pedestrianism in the interest of energy conservation and efficiency.
Cayman Brac Power and Light General Manager Jonathan Tibbetts, who is chairman of the Public Education subcommittee, said efforts should be made to engage students about energy conservation and alternative energy, for example, through a science/technology fair.
“Something I think has been missing for many years is a science/technology fair and the promotion of it,” he said. “We need to find ways how to get the youngsters involved.”