MPs debate Island’s future energy strategy

  • Alternatives: A solar panel on a roof in Bermuda. MPs in the House of Assembly debated the Island's future energy strategy, including ideas on how to reduce energy consumption and the use of renewable sources, such as solar power.

    Alternatives: A solar panel on a roof in Bermuda. MPs in the House of Assembly debated the Island's future energy strategy, including ideas on how to reduce energy consumption and the use of renewable sources, such as solar power.

One Bermuda Alliance has declared itself supportive of Government’s Energy White Paper, but in the House of Assembly on Monday night argued it was overdue.

Shadow Environment Minister Cole Simons said the strategic objectives of the policy were worthy of support but more information could have been provided on the “underlying assumptions of the Government used to develop its energy strategies for the next decade” and “more on current and future challenges faced by Bermuda when it comes to energy security, supply distribution and storage”.

“With a small population, limited land space and surface water, the options available for renewable sources of energy are limited compared to the larger industrial nations,” he said.

“This makes investment in the Island a critical component in the energy blueprint very challenging.”

Mr Simons pointed out that the Paper did not address the impact of energy prices on families and businesses.

And the White Paper could have said more on items such as air quality regulations, cleaner and more efficient technologies, cleaner electricity and waste management, he told the House of Assembly.

Mr Simons then called on Government to establish “interim, measurable, accountable dates in its milestones” that were shorter than the ten-year time span set out in the White Paper.

The paper was also silent on the social and economic costs of greenhouse gas emissions, and the implications of future economic development, he noted.

Mr Simons went on to ask whether Government should formalise the relationship with Belco, the Island’s electric utility.

He said if Bermuda was to encourage alternative energy in homes and businesses there should be easy access to the grid.

“Depending on Belco’s infrastructure leaves Bermuda in an untenable position,” he stated.

Turning to recycling, Mr Simons said that following the reopening of the plant in 2009, the programme had become negligible.

And, he said, the building code had to be updated to take into account the need for buildings to be energy-efficient.

Charlie Swan, who was elected as a UBP MP, said his father was in the energy conservation business, and described it as a “hard sell” because of Bermuda’s prosperity back in the 1970s and 1980s. These days it should be easier and Government has a key role to play, he said.

“We’re in times where we really need to find ways to save energy,” he added.

He said there were some quick and relatively easy things Government could do now, such as replacing all the light bulbs in Government buildings with LEDs and subsidising energy audits for households.

Mr Swan noted that the use of solar power in Barbados for water heating was saving that island nation $6 million a year, and that it was building wind farms.

Former energy Minister Terry Lister, under whose tenure the Energy Department was formed, then rose to give a brief background of Government’s energy policy.

The White Paper was the culmination of a process that began in 2007, Mr Lister said.

That set “quite achievable targets”, the MP said. As such, a 20 percent reduction in electricity consumption by 2020 “can, should and must be achieved”.

But Mr Lister said that there was no single solution as “all the pieces put together will take us to where we want to be” and a key driver is the high cost of electricity in Bermuda.

“As we go forward we must embrace the ideas in this document so that fuel poverty does not become a reality in Bermuda,” he said.

Mr Lister added that Government had not been idle and had utilised tax policies to encourage the take up of alternative energy technologies.

And he said it was important to be able to correctly set the “feed-in tariffs” the rate at which power is sold back to the grid.

“People should get a price that is worthwhile. They should not be feeding into the grid at 15 cents and taking from the grid at 40 cents.”

An energy regulatory authority would be no less important than the Bermuda Monetary Authority or the Telecommunications Authority, he continued. And he proposed changing the Planning regime to ensure that all new buildings are to LEED standards.

And Mr Lister suggested that the Energy Minister look at a new licensing system for vehicles based on the polluter pays principles so that those who own high-emissions vehicles pay more.

The OBA’s Grant Gibbons questioned the concept of peak oil production one of the assumptions of the White Paper and said that there was some evidence to indicate that there was more fossil fuel capacity yet untapped. But he added that reducing fossil fuel dependency “was not a bad thing”.

Dr Gibbons noted that renewable energy sources such as solar and wind were not necessarily reliable which meant there would be added costs for ensuring energy redundancy.

Former Environment Minister Walter Roban spoke of the need for people to take responsibility for improving the Island’s energy record, and not just leave it to Government.

He said the White Paper was not designed to provide all the answers, rather to act as a starting point.

“If we don’t change our behaviour on energy, it will make no difference,” warned the Pembroke East MP.

“We will be bleeding ourselves dry of dollars and consuming more energy than we should be as a Country.”

Pembroke South East backbencher Ashfield DeVent said it will be very difficult to change the mindset of the population, particularly the younger generation, which has grown up in a world dominated by electronic gadgets.

“We have got a huge, huge task ahead of us,” said Mr DeVent.

He said in the future the world will be a different place as countries with massive populations like China and India start using more energy and impact on dwindling global resources.

But he said Bermuda is in a good position to lead the way, as it doesn’t have any major industries.

Sandys North Central backbencher Dennis Lister said he has put a lot of time into the energy arena in recent years.

Mr Lister said a lot of technology regarded as futuristic by many is in fact readily available today, and gave a glowing report on the reliability and efficiency of the electric cars he drives himself.

“We need to embrace technology as we move forward,” said Mr Lister. “It’s here today and we need to start embracing it today.”

Premier Paula Cox wrapped up the debate by calling for Bermudian entrepreneurs to step up to the challenge of finding ways of helping the Island meet its goals on energy.

The Premier said many young Bermudians had already visited Cabinet to showcase initiatives and enterprise in the field.

She said the White Paper is a “clear way forward to encourage incentives and inspire would-be entrepreneurs to seize the nettle”.

“In 2012 I want to see an explosion of technology,” said Ms Cox.

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Published Dec 14, 2011 at 8:30 am (Updated Dec 14, 2011 at 8:30 am)

MPs debate Island’s future energy strategy

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