Editorial for September 25: Here comes the sun

The true foundations of the Cayman Islands are sun, sand and sea.

Without an abundance of those three natural resources, it’s likely that Cayman’s tourism industry would be nonexistent and the financial services sector would never have materialized.

Caymanians have managed to work economic miracles with little more than mango steak and sea-grass pie.

That’s what makes the islands’ continued squandering of one of its basic blessings so absolutely confounding.

We’re talking about the dearth of solar power generation in Cayman. How can it be that an aspiring nation of the first class has thus far refused to embrace a proven technology that could hardly be more appropriate for the local environment?

Each year, millions of tourists flock to Cayman, a mere 19 degrees from the Equator, with the goal of soaking up as much sun as possible. Unfortunately, the solar radiation absorbed by our visitors provides little direct economic impact except perhaps to their dermatologists back home.

Every bare roof in Cayman represents a missed opportunity to achieve a measure of independence from the diesel-generated electricity peddled at precious prices by Caribbean Utilities Company. Yet, major solar energy installations remain too few and far between in Cayman.

A handful of developments have been blazing trails, including Camana Bay and Health City Cayman Islands, but for the vast majority of Cayman residents, the initial investment required for solar power is simply cost-prohibitive. The way the local electricity market is regulated only reinforces the situation.
We welcome Caledonian Bank’s recent announcement of its impressive solar energy array as a positive sign of good things to come and an indication of the inevitability of change.

The 100,000-watt installation is the largest allowed for a commercial business by CUC, which buys excess energy created by the alternative producer.
Lest we suffer accusations of indulging in tree-hugging hippiedom, let us assure you that our observations are motivated by an entirely different type of green. Money.

For example, Caledonian expects its new solar array to cut its power bill by two-thirds, saving about US$200,000 per year and allowing it to recoup its investment in relatively short order.

If successful, Caledonian’s example may serve as a powerful motivator for other commercial property owners to join them in the 21st century.

Currently, CUC has a generating capacity of nearly 150 megawatts in Grand Cayman. In July, the Electricity Regulatory Authority canceled an agreement with Dart Realty to supply 36 megawatts of power, saying CUC’s forecasts for demand did not warrant the generation of more electricity.

Meanwhile, CUC is assumedly still engaged in negotiations with a couple of providers to generate 13 megawatts of renewable energy, a process that has been going on since 2011.

Before the May election, the short-lived People’s National Alliance government released a much-discussed National Energy Policy, setting goals for the year 2030, including that 13.5 percent of all electricity sold to consumers be generated from renewable energy sources.

Toward that aim, the National Energy Policy calls for creating tariffs to allow electric utilities to recoup investments in renewable energy, revising wind farm exclusion zones around the airport and Doppler radar, and instituting duty breaks and/or funding for renewable energy items.

Yes, yes and yes. The sooner, the better.

A coordinated effort to transform Cayman’s electrical portfolio is long overdue.

It is high time we monetized sunshine.