Last week, Cayman took important steps on its journey to integrate renewable energy into our current fossil-fuel-only model.
The most tangible development was the groundbreaking of a 22-acre solar farm in Bodden Town that is expected to provide 5 megawatts of electrical power into Caribbean Utilities Company’s transmission and distribution grid on Grand Cayman, starting in October of this year.
While we wish the best for the private sector company, Entropy Cayman Solar Ltd., which is undertaking this project, we are fully aware – and so is Entropy – that starting a new sustainable energy initiative in the Cayman Islands is fraught with challenges, including high costs, an entrenched supplier and, of course, a bureaucratic and regulatory morass.
Another development was the unanimous support in Legislative Assembly last week of George Town MLA Winston Connolly’s private members’ motion asking the government to establish a national energy plan with specific target dates for the implementation of renewable energy.
Here again, we support the government’s efforts to establish a national energy plan, and we would hope our elected members would act more as facilitators or enablers than as legislators. Cayman’s Electricity Regulatory Authority, of course, should continue to be the industry’s overseer.
One of the challenges in developing renewable energy here is cost, and that factor is compounded by the fact that power is supplied – at least until Entropy is up and running – by a monopoly provider, CUC, which also controls the transmission and distribution infrastructure.
With CUC in the driver’s seat in any negotiations to use the transmission and distribution infrastructure, progress can be cumbersome and slow.
Nevertheless, CUC, which has just marked its 50th year as Cayman’s singular supplier of energy, has been a reliable and responsible corporate citizen of these islands and cannot be blamed for being cautious as it moves forward in its embrace of renewable energy. After all, CUC is a publicly traded company that owes allegiance both to its customers and its shareholders.
Despite the challenges, Cayman has one thing going for it that most countries do not: Its small size. Trying to implement a national energy plan for a large country, such as the United States, is much more formidable than doing it in a country the size of the Cayman Islands. We also have an abundance of sunshine to charge solar panels, warm surface water and cold deep water to make practical ocean thermal technology and, of course, an abundance of Caribbean breezes to keep windmills whirling productively.
Ultimately, it must be the economics and reliability of alternative energy sources that will determine their success – or lack thereof – in the Cayman Islands (and elsewhere).
Government should be wary about “anointing” any particular energy technology, especially if it means granting concessions or incentives that ultimately will skew the market.