CUC, regulator expand renewables program

Acknowledging that consumers have overwhelmed the Caribbean Utilities Company program encouraging private generation of power, the Electricity Regulatory Authority has expanded the “renewables” plan by 50 percent. 

Dubbed “CORE,” Consumer Owned Renewable Energy, the program pays individuals to generate electricity using private solar or wind installations. They sell the power to CUC, which sells it back to the owner at a lower rate, enabling a small profit. 

The move, announced late Thursday, expands from 2 megawatts to 3MW the aggregate limit on what CUC will accept onto the national electricity grid from individuals. The move comes in the wake of pressure from the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, which sought to widen the program, and preserve employment and economic opportunities for the burgeoning renewables industry. 

“We wrote to the government, CUC and the ERA,” said the association’s vice chairman Jim Knapp, founder and managing director of renewable-system builder Endless Energy. 

“CUC had stopped taking [CORE] applications, had shut them off, without telling anyone,” Mr. Knapp said. “Our objectives were twofold: We wanted to help keep down the cost of electricity, and we wanted to keep the industry going for employers and employees.” 

ERA Deputy Managing Director Louis Boucher said the changes came because “we’ve been assessing the program holistically and the 2MW cap was full and CUC was receiving applications on top of that. No announcement had been made, so we needed to take interim measures to keep things fair for people still putting in applications.” 

The rate of CORE uptake has increased dramatically since its late-2009 creation and 2011 and 2012 amendments, making payments to consumers more attractive. 

By November 2014, CUC had registered 62 CORE customers generating 684.6 kilowatts. The company had approved another 35 customers, proposing another 876.39kW. 

This 1.56MW was already approaching the old 2MW limit, set in 2009, said CUC spokeswoman Pat Bynoe-Clarke. Those limits, she indicated, were created to ensure the integrity of the grid as it accepted initial alternate-energy generation, and “we didn’t want to impact our existing customers” who were not CORE participants. 

“There was great interest from customers,” she said. “Initially, we had said 2MW, but we met with the [ERA] and decided to raise it to 3MW.” 

Knapp said CREA had sought “significantly more” than 3MW, which he described as not enough, especially as the renewables industry gains momentum. 

“We have to keep this industry going. There are now seven or eight businesses with employees to do the installations,” as well as local electricians, engineers, designers, technicians and others. Mr. Knapp said that means “we use about 15 people, 16 people,” an aggregate of more than 100 jobs island-wide. 

He pointed out that even the new 3MW applies only to the CORE Program and does not affect ex-CORE private generation. 

“It’s safe to say that on-island, without planning permission, without CUC, without anything, there are between 50kW and 100kW being generated,” he said, meaning as much as an additional 1MW is being created by wind and solar installations. 

Mr. Boucher acknowledged ex-CORE generation, and said it was likely to become increasingly practical as battery technology improves, enabling more efficient and durable storage of renewable-generated power: “It becomes more economical, and maybe there is a tipping point.” 

He did not rule out future changes to CORE, repeating that Thursday’s boost was an “interim measure.” 

The CORE program, he said, had proved a success, driven recently by fears that it would expire, “but we’re still looking at the program. This was done much as a relief, to keep it running.” 

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