Solar energy advocacy group launches
The solar energy industry has seen a 70 per cent decrease in installations over the last year — a fall that supporters of renewables put down a slashing of the rate that Belco is required to pay to solar producers for what they supply to the grid.
In response, the Solar Energy Association has been formed to promote the case for producing more of the island's electricity from sunshine.
The SEA, which argues that plans for the future of Bermuda's electricity supply are leading towards a long-term reliance on fossil fuels, will hold its first general meeting at St Paul's Church Hall in Paget this evening at 6.30pm. The meeting is open to the public.
In response to questions, the advocacy group said the timing of the launch of the SEA was in response to the Regulatory Authority reducing the amount power utility Belco has to pay for electricity purchased from solar producers by 61 per cent, from 44 cents per kilowatt hour to 17.36 cents/kWh.
The reduction means existing solar photovoltaic customers have seen their expected payback period of between seven and ten years doubled, a scenario that has also deterred potential new customers.
“Recent rafts of regulatory orders enacted by the recently formed Regulatory Authority of Bermuda have had a disastrous impact on the growth of residential solar installations in Bermuda such that there has been an almost 70 per cent reduction in the growth of new installations,” the SEA stated.
“This, coupled with a utility energy plan that seems to be aggressively steering Bermuda towards a long-term reliance on traditional fossil fuels, and in particular LNG, to the detriment of growing our base of renewable energy generation.
“The trend in Bermuda, away from the growth of renewable energy, is in complete contrast to worldwide trends where renewable and in particular solar energy has seen rapid and continuous growth and deployment.
“It is essential to Bermuda's long-term interests to have an organisation that recognises the importance and necessity of developing an energy policy that is both sustainable and environmentally responsible rather than simply serving the protectionist and economic interests of a monopolistic utility framework that is not in step with modern trends in energy generation and deployment.”
The SEA was set up with four main aims: to promote renewable energy as a cost-effective and clean energy option; to conduct research and lobby policymakers; to champion the use of renewable energy through advocacy and education; and to be a source of information, influence and interconnection for businesses involved in the industry.
The SEA sees enormous untapped potential for the industry.
“At present, the total deployment of solar PV in Bermuda, including the few commercial installations, represents only around 3 per cent to 4 per cent of our total peak demand, which by the standards of other developed and developing nations is minuscule, and by no means can it be regarded as a mature generation technology,” the SEA stated.
“Despite this extremely low penetration, the future deployment is being regulated, via the latest Feed in Tariff, as if the total penetration was similar to nations where PV installations are widespread and offset a ‘significant' portion of peak demand.
“For these reasons, there is huge potential for the future growth of solar energy in Bermuda, but that growth is totally dependent on a properly structured regulatory framework and clearly defined energy policy, neither of which currently exist.”
The SEA has more than 100 signed-up members and this evening's public meeting is a first step towards growing public participation.
The SEA said it would follow up with a series of informational broadcasts to support the organisation's objectives.
Walter Roban, the regulatory affairs minister, last month signalled that the Bermuda Government intends to re-establish rebates for solar installations. The previous programme ended four years ago and Mr Roban said the new scheme would seek to provide the most support to lower-income homes, for energy efficiency installations, as well as solar systems.
The SEA said this was “certainly a positive sign but it needs to be coupled with the streamlining of the so called ‘soft costs' associated with solar installations, which are typically the planning and permitting procedures and costs”.
The SEA added: “At present, smaller residential installations are unnecessarily expensive, when compared to larger installations, due to the high administrative costs of the permitting process.
“It is essential that any rebate is targeted directly at those who would otherwise not be able to afford the initial investment that is needed to reduce their energy costs in the longer term.”
According to the SEA's website, its executive committee members include chairman George Masters, deputy chairman Peter Parker, treasurer Kevin Gunther, secretary Liam McKittrick. Other committee members include Damion Wilson, BAE Solar, AES Solar and BE Solar.
• For more information, visit the SEA website at www.SEA.bm