New energy policy in the works

Connolly’s motion sparks action on renewable energy plan

Renewable energy advocates have applauded the government for making a commitment to clean power and called on lawmakers to turn those words into action.

James Whittaker, the head of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, welcomed the government’s decision, announced in the Legislative Assembly last week, to revamp its draft national energy plan to include far more ambitious targets on adoption of renewable energy.

Legislators unanimously backed a private members’ motion from independent MLA Winston Connolly calling for the energy plan, which has remained in draft form since 2013, to be revised and finalized within six months.

Mr. Connolly’s motion recommended ambitious targets, including conversion to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

A National Energy Policy Review Committee is being assembled this week, with members expected to include Mr. Connolly and Mr. Whittaker, as well as representatives from the Caribbean Utilities Company and Cayman Brac Power and Light.

Mr. Connolly said Wednesday that he is happy the government listened to the people and is hopeful that the review committee can come up with firm recommendations within the next three months.

“I’m hopeful that recommendations from the committee will be taken on board and that those recommendations will be then discussed and negotiated with CUC and a way forward can be agreed that’s best for the Caymanian people and the Cayman Islands,” he said.

Mr. Whittaker said the resounding support for Mr. Connolly’s motion during an extensive debate that went till midnight on Thursday was the first time he had seen real political backing for a conversion to renewable energy.

“I think there is a collective desire to push for 100 percent. It is good that we are now getting government to support these issues, but ultimately actions will speak louder than words.”

The initial draft energy policy, produced in 2013, set a modest target that 13.5 percent of all electricity sold to consumers be generated from renewable energy sources by 2030. Currently, Cayman derives less than 1 percent of its power from renewable energy, though that will increase slightly once the islands’ first solar farm, which broke ground Monday, is connected to the grid.

Mr. Connolly, speaking in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, said the draft energy policy was another example of a “pretty document” that had been “sitting on a shelf and lost for three years.” He said it needed to be dusted off and revamped with more ambitious targets.

The George Town legislator, who has taken the lead on renewable energy, attending several international conferences on the issue, said Cayman was lagging behind the rest of the world in adoption of new technologies.

He highlighted resistance from CUC as part of the problem.

“We don’t want to put CUC out of business, we don’t want to affect shareholders negatively, but like many other utilities worldwide, they have to meet in the middle and they have to adapt,” Mr. Connolly said. “This is about energy revolution. This is about the people speaking and wanting change, wanting lower prices, wanting to be more environmentally conscious, wanting to do their part.”

Highlighting an overwhelming response on social media and at an energy summit he had hosted, Mr. Connolly said people were clamoring for change. He said the technology already exists for a much greater take-up of utility-scale solar. He also suggested research on and adoption of other renewable energy technologies, including wind, geothermal and saltwater air conditioning, would create new business opportunities and new jobs in Cayman.

Urging legislators not to let any shares they might have in CUC cloud their judgment, he said renewable energy presents a chance to create new opportunities.

Kurt Tibbetts, the minister for planning, said government had seconded an expert, named JP Morgan, to lead the review of the energy policy. Mr. Tibbetts said he was happy to accept Mr. Connolly’s motion and for him to be part of the team that would review and revise the policy.

He said the review would start next week and indicated the committee would look at Mr. Connolly’s targets to see if they were practical and realistic as they formulate the policy.

Mr. Connolly’s motion included a 12-point list of recommendations, with targets for take-up of electric vehicles, use of solar panels on government buildings and a request for Cayman to join the 10-island challenge organized by the Carbon War Room, which offers logistic and technical support to Caribbean islands seeking to convert to clean energy.

Speaking in the assembly on Thursday, Mr. Connolly, who also wants to see more ambitious targets around CO2 emissions, said Cayman could no longer afford to ignore issues such as climate change. Challenging the notion that Cayman is too small to make a difference, he said striving to be part of the global solution opens up access to grant funding and logistic support from international agencies.

“We, as a low lying island at the mercy of the seas, are going to be affected [by climate change] long before the big countries,” he said. “We need to partner with global entities and seek support from organizations globally.”

James Whittaker, the head of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, and James Whittaker, the author of this article, are not related.