1,500 homes would get help with utility bills
Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush announced plans Tuesday to install solar panels in 1,500 existing homes of people with low incomes to help lower their utility bills.
He made the announcement during a news conference Tuesday, during which he also revealed that Joey Ebanks would take up the reins as the new managing director of the Electricity Regulatory Authority on 1 May.
Mr. Bush said he planned to request $15 million in the next budget to implement the programme, which he said would start in the last quarter of this year.
In his role as the new head of the regulatory body, Mr. Ebanks, who worked until recently as CUC’s manager of training, safety and environment, will also chair a new committee established to help introduce the so-called Renewable Energy Programme. Other members include Jim Knapp, who has an alternative energy home, member of the Electricity Regulatory Authority Michael Herland, and government backbencher Cline Glidden, who is a counsellor within the Ministry of Works on the issue of electricity.
Mr. Bush said the programme would “save 70 per cent for 1,500 homes, but also provide between 150 to 200 net new job opportunities for Caymanians”.
The premier said the government would also examine how government buildings, such as the Government Administration Building, which he said had a Caribbean Utilities Company bill of $100,000 a month, could be included in the initial renewable energy programme.
People who will benefit from the programme will be chosen from data from the Economic and Statistics Office, the Electricity Regulatory Authority and the Department of Social Services “in order to target those in most need of assistance”, Mr. Bush said.
“We will ensure that the myth is broken that renewable energy is only for the very wealthy and elite. This is a programme for all,” he added.
Earlier this month, the government passed a motion, brought by Mr. Glidden, to take steps to eliminate utility-imposed restrictions on a person’s individual or business right to use renewable energy systems to offset utility consumption, thus reducing or eliminating utility costs and … to implement net metering using the [US] Interstate Renewable Energy Commission model rules for both net metering and grid interconnection.
Mr. Bush said he had spoken to Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor and visiting United Kingdom Overseas Territories Minister Henry Bellingham about a renewable energy programme and had received “a positive response from the UK government regarding our efforts on behalf of encouraging renewable energy use and the sustainability of our business community”.
He added: “There are still details to be worked out, just how the budget will finance it. I don’t believe in borrowing, but if it’s $15 million I have to borrow to fund the programme, the United Kingdom, I think, will look favourably on it.” No company has yet been chosen to supply the solar panels, the premier said, adding the process of choosing a company would be done in the coming months.
Mr. Knapp said social services and the Electricity Regulatory Authority would find people most in need as the early participants of the programme. He said he anticipated that with net metering, people who are chosen for the programme would not go off the grid, but could create energy during the day when they are at work and use it back when they return or need it.
Currently, Cayman does not have a net metering programme.
Mr. Glidden said CUC would have to be involved “in some level of negotiations that will have to take place”, as the programme was dependent on a net metering system. He said he expected those negotiations to be completed by the time solar panels are installed at the first homes as part of the programme.
According to CUC, however, the utility company has not been formally advised by the government or the Electricity Regulatory Authority about any change in the law that would allow for net metering and has also not been formally advised of the proposed solar panel programme.
The company has submitted a proposal to the Electricity Regulatory Authority on revision of the current Feed-In Tariff system rate structure. That system was a revised version of the consumer owned renewable energy programme and its one-year pilot scheme, in which homeowners or business owners using alternative energy could sell 100 per cent of the energy they produced to CUC at 37 cents per kilowatt hour and buy back power from the grid at the retail cost.
It was also announced at the news conference that a draft of the long-awaited national energy policy has been completed and would be put out to public consultation. That draft policy has not yet been made public, but Mr. Bush said it included a push towards the use of renewable energy.