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Work starts on energy policy as solar panel installation picks up

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The Department of Energy begins this week seeking advice on establishing a new energy regulatory environment, with a promise of public consultation later this year. The new regulatory regime for energy in Bermuda is a priority for the Ministry of Education and Economic Development.

Government requires two sets of consultants to (a) develop the new comprehensive energy policy and (b) determine interconnection agreements between the private electricity utility, Belco, and the 150 residential and commercial premises which have installed solar photovoltaic installation systems.

This comes as it was confirmed yesterday that planners continue to see regular applications for the assembly of home solar panels, even though an under-budgeted government rebate for the units ended in April.

Director of Planning Aideen Ratteray Pryse confirmed: “There are definitely regular applications seeking planning permission for solar panels. The Government policy has been toward encouraging renewable energy. The solar panel applications are quite common.”

The rebate scheme began in 2009 as an incentive to offer residents up to $5,000 for the installation of solar PV panels in their homes and was shortly followed by solar water heater rebates of up to $1,500. The entire budget for the five years was to be $500,000.

But on Friday, the Minister Grant Gibbons said the overall financial commitment to these programmes exceeded the former administration's original estimate by about 70 percent when it ended.

On the plus side, there is close to a megawatt of installed solar PV and hundreds of kilowatts of reduced electrical use, due to the installation of solar water heating. And the renewable energy industry is now well established.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department has been collaborating with the Department of Planning to find ways in which barriers may be lowered to renewable energy integration without sacrificing Planning's statutory duties of ensuring safety and code compliances.

Dr Gibbons stated: “Already, the process is streamlined so that any applications of 400 square feet and under are permitted development and therefore do not require a full-blown planning application, and any applications under 1,000 square feet do not require the Department of Energy to review. Other solutions are being examined as we continue to listen and respond to the needs of the renewable energy community.”

But one conservation entrepreneur said that efficiencies that can be obtained through energy conservation should be addressed prior to the purchase of solar panels.

Michael Burke of thegreenhousebermuda said that simple replacement of traditional light fixtures with light-emitting diode (LED) could substantially reduce power consumption and alter solar panel needs.

A self-styled ‘green' advocate, Mr Burke's company advises on and installs LED lighting, among other products and services.

He said: “People have been putting up solar arrays, but they have not been dealing with their internal wattage, which is very critical. Solar panels bring great results. But in combination with the LED technology, it brings massive savings.

“LED is a very efficient lighting technology, far superior to the traditional fluorescent and incandescent lighting. And in most situations, there is a simple replacement procedure.”

One of his LED lighting products, for example, promises to reduce the monthly lighting bill by 50 to 70 percent and the LED bulbs last 12-16 years based on eight hours a day usage.

There is no warm up time with an instant on/off operation and the bulbs remain cool to the touch, reducing the need for air conditioning.

Environmentally, the solid state lighting fixtures are recyclable with no radiation, UV or mercury. There are no hazardous materials or gases from broken bulbs. It is also shock proof and has no glass.

Some of the products are up to 80 percent more energy efficient than comparable fluorescents and throw light much farther.

LED lights have a three to five time longer lifespan when compared to fluorescents and 20 to 30 times longer when compared to incandescent lighting. They save between five to ten times energy costs not only directly by less electric usage, but also by less heating and air conditioning.

These figures reflect improving technologies in energy conservation — advances that the Government and the electricity utility, Belco, believe is of great value in Bermuda's high cost consumer environment.

The Minister told Parliament on Friday: “Energy drives almost every element of our lives and our livelihoods.”

He said: “The Department continues its work on outreach, partnering where possible with other organisations, such as Greenrock, to ensure that the energy efficiency and conservation messaging is consistent and sustained.

“We believe that creating a culture of energy efficiency and conservation will be a major pillar of any national energy plan, and so we must put our collective support behind any initiatives that help educate consumers on how they can reduce their consumption and better control their energy expenditures. Conservation is generally the cheapest, most effective means by which the greatest impact can be made.”

The Department of Energy will create interconnection agreements between Belco and the many commercial and residential Solar PV system installations that are coming online.

In order to create the most equitable set of agreements for the various size and number of systems, a consultant will advise on residential interconnection agreements, commercial interconnection agreements, and also utility-scale power purchase agreements. These agreements will also enable the development of intermediate and large-scale projects such as solar photovoltaic farms.

Dr Gibbons said that without the Power Purchase Agreements there can be no credible solicitation for renewable energy proposals for any public lands or buildings.

He said: “Some may see this consultant as the cart before the horse, when juxtaposed with the work of regulatory reform, but in fact this is absolutely necessary, in order to respond to an urgent need in the community.

“There are commercial customers, who are interconnected to the grid and providing their excess power into the system, but who are not currently being compensated.

“The work of the consultant will rectify this situation, and because the work will be done in an open and collaborative fashion, the agreements will be developed transparently and be as fair as possible to all participants.”

Meanwhile, he said Government will publish a request for proposal to engage another set of consultants — legal consultants — who will work with the Department of Energy to assist in the development of energy regulatory policies and also assist the Attorney General's Chambers with the proposed new legislation.

He said: “Our current plans have this work scheduled to commence in the late summer, with the intent of having public consultations in the fall.”

Efficiency comes first: Michael Burke of thegreenhousebermuda
Education and Economic Development Minister Grant Gibbons

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Published July 22, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated July 22, 2014 at 9:35 am)

Work starts on energy policy as solar panel installation picks up

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