Editorial: More money at home

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Antigua and Barbuda can take a bow after receiving the inaugural “Best Utility Scale Solar” prize at the ninth edition of the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF) in Miami recently. The prize recognises our push toward alternative energy as a source of electricity production and, in particular, the 10 megawatt energy project cluster (to include the three megawatt airport solar plant).
The 10 megawatt project is being hailed as a step in the right direction as the country aims to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable energy by 2020, all of this occurring under the umbrella of a larger focus on reducing our reliance upon fossil fuels as the energy source for our generation facilities and our transportation needs.
We have no issues with any of this, and, in fact, applaud the government for any green energy initiative that will wean us off of our reliance on fossil fuels. That said, we would love to see how productive these plants are. For a long time, we got public reports from the Antigua Power Company regarding the amount of power produced in a month, the downtime (scheduled and unscheduled), et cetera We would like to see these types of reports from all the generation facilities and especially the solar plants. This kind of information would be great so that we can assess the payback of solar from the point of view of utility scale solar.
We would also continue to beat a dead horse and implore the government to review the current interconnection policy at the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) and become more aggressive with the incentives for private citizens. The world is moving toward greater democratisation of energy production, and we should be at the forefront of that charge. The government should craft policies to aggressively promote the adoption of alternative energy by the private sector. They should foster an environment that makes a compelling case for people to spend their money to contribute to our goal of fossil fuel independence.
With the recent talk about electric vehicles, we had a thought, and we would like to share it with you. Hopefully it can form the basis of a new policy in the area of green energy production and usage.
Right now, the policy at APUA is that private generation facilities utilising green energy fall in two categories: 5 kilowatts and under and over 5 kilowatts (to a maximum of 50 kilowatts). The smaller size gives you the ability to utilise a portion of the energy that you produce during the day and the remainder is purchased by APUA at basically half the retail rate. The larger-sized generation facility falls into a “buy all – sell all” regime, meaning that APUA buys all that you produce at about half price and sells it all back to you at full retail. This creates a huge hurdle to adoption.
As APUA is unlikely to change this position any time soon (even though we live in hope), we would like to propose a modification. For every household or business that invests in and operates an electric vehicle, they fall under a net-usage policy (as it was in the early days), meaning that APUA counts the number of electricity units that you produce and subtracts the amount of units you utilise to power your home and your vehicle.
This will create greater incentive for the ordinary citizen to invest in alternative power generation and electric vehicles. We believe that there is a powerful enough business case to entice the banks to get involved because the payback period is sufficient to be attractive to lenders. Essentially, it pays for itself.
And that is the beauty of this whole new frontier in alternative energy. Eventually, it will pay for itself, and, after that, the benefits really shine. Less spent on utilities means more money to circulate in the economy. Add to that, the greater adoption and use of electric vehicles, and, all of a sudden, fewer dollars are going offshore to buy fuel and more money is being spent locally. Foreign exchange reserves go up and people have more disposable income to spend here at home.  
If you are not yet convinced, think of this: All of this can happen through enabling government policy. No need to spend precious and scarce taxpayer re-sources. The private sector will drive the revolution.
We know that there will be many who will shout-down this type of suggestion because they will claim that it will jeopardise APUA, et cetera, but we cannot allow that myopic way of thinking to get between us and the future. Plus, this should all play into the roadmap of becoming an economic powerhouse; more money at home and less going overseas. We can’t lose.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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