The Caribbean Utilities Company gave the Central Planning Authority a private presentation Wednesday of its plans to introduce natural gas as an alternative energy source to Cayman.
The CUC presentation was listed on the authority’s agenda, so the media and local environmentalists showed up to hear it, expecting the meeting to be held in public. But the presentation was carried out over Zoom in the CPA’s meeting room at the Government Administration Building, and no media or members of the public were allowed to attend.
Ron Sanderson, deputy director of planning, said CUC was making a presentation, rather than an application, and therefore it was being held in private.
The agenda had listed the presentation as: “Representatives from CUC will provide a brief presentation on their consideration of natural gas as a transitional fuel in the Cayman Islands energy program that would result in a cost of fuel that is lower and less volatile than diesel with a significant reduction in emissions.”
Members of environmental groups Amplify Cayman and the Mangrove Rangers were among those who had shown up to attend the meeting, and they expressed concern that it was being held behind closed doors.
However, on Thursday morning, Sacha Tibbetts, CUC vice president, told the Compass that the company would have “been happy for members of the public to attend the meeting and there was no request from CUC for the meeting to be private”.
He said, “In fact towards the end of the presentation, we were told by members of the CPA that there were some members of the public who were outside the meeting and wished to attend. We were very open and welcoming of this. However, by that time the presentation was essentially complete, I believe the CPA informed the visitors that we were wrapping up and attending at that late stage wasn’t practical.”
In fact, the visitors, including the Compass, when they tried to enter the meeting room, were told that the meeting was being held in private and they were not allowed to attend.
Tibbetts said in an email to the Compass Thursday morning that the presentation “was more of a consultation discussion where we were seeking feedback from various stakeholders on the issues or perceived issues surrounding the importation of Natural Gas into Grand Cayman”.
He added that CUC had had similar discussions with OfReg, the Department of Environment, the Energy Policy Council and various on-island fuel suppliers with a view to getting a holistic sense of the local concerns around procuring natural gas as an alternate fuel to diesel for power generation.
“The National Energy Policy and our Integrated Resource Plan both recommend a large amount of renewable energy as well as conversion of thermal generating units to run on Natural Gas. This two-pronged approach, which CUC supports fully, is designed to lower and stabilize the cost of electricity while making significant improvements to the environmental impact of power generation on Grand Cayman,” Tibbetts said.
Since 2017, the CPA has allowed members of the public to attend the portions of its meetings where developers present their plans and potential objectors can air concerns, although CPA members typically deliberate and vote on development applications behind closed doors.
In its 30-year Integrated Resource Plan released in 2019, CUC recommended several energy alternatives – including natural gas – that government and power industry officials have discussed over the years. Other alternatives in the IRP are investing in battery energy storage, converting diesel-fired engines to dual-fuel, assessing the viability of ocean thermal energy conversion, supporting the development of landfill gas facilities, and building more solar energy generators.
In the IRP, Pace Global, the consultants which drew up the report, projected that Cayman would gradually use more natural gas starting around 2024 and existing generators would be retired. The islands will also be getting more of their energy from solar and wind sources around that time, the consultants stated.