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Why the conflict in Ukraine will have an impact on Bermuda Electricity Prices

Bermuda's sole electricity supplier, BELCO announced a few days ago that it is planning a $200 million investment in Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) infrastructure, but Bermuda should not be making massive investments in LNG today.

We have a significant opportunity to change our energy generation paradigm: BELCO needs to replace its ageing diesel fuel oil generators and is proposing to replace them with a new LNG-based plant (Mello, 2013).

But we should seize this opportunity to invest in a way that will reduce our dependence on environmentally, financially and politically uncertain fossil fuel, and be of benefit to the island today and 30 years in the future.

Bermuda has a moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but there are better ways to do this then to replace our diesel fuel oil engines with LNG fuelled engines.

We may be a very small contributor to greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale but we have an obligation under the Kyoto accord to reduce our emissions (Bates, 2014).

Our per capita emissions of greenhouse gases are more than twice the world average (Department of Energy, 2011) and significantly above the UK average (Bates, 2014).

The primary component of LNG is methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

While LNG as a fuel for electricity production is often touted as having significantly lower impact on climate change than conventional fuels, if at any point the methane escapes it is more than 20 times more potent as a heat trapping gas in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (EPA, 2014).

Recent evidence suggests that ‘fracking', the process of fracturing shale rock to release the natural gas, results in leakages in three places: from the wells, from the pipes, and at the end user, and enough methane is being emitted into the atmosphere to more than cancel out the benefits of substituting it for other fossil fuels (Brandt, 2014).

One of the attractions of LNG for BELCO is the potential for lower cost for electricity production, but this is a high risk bet.

Prices have been very low in the last couple of years due to the ‘fracking' boom in the US, but investment in major energy infrastructure commits Bermuda for the next 25 to 30 years, and the price of LNG is likely to rise significantly in that time.

According to the US Department of Energy, 90 percent of new power plants in the US will be gas-fuelled, which will dramatically increase demand for LNG (reported in Tomain and Cudahy, 2011).

LNG availability and pricing is also susceptible to political and global instability; in fact a recent articles in Forbes and Politico suggest that the crisis in Ukraine crisis could present the US with an opportunity to export LNG to Europe (Yergin, 2014), which would further boost demand, and with it, the price of LNG.

Another source of uncertainty is that US gas reserves appear to be overestimated. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently revised its estimate of shale gas reserves down by 42 percent (Hughes, 2013).

Eighty percent of US shale gas comes from only five locations, several of which are already in decline, and the cost of extracting gas will increase as the highest potential sites are depleted (Hughes, 2013).

Domestically, political opposition to fracking by locals who fear threats to health and water supplies is leading states such as New York to turn away from fracking altogether (Walsh, 2013).

Bermuda's relative isolation makes it critically important that we place the right bets for energy.

In 2011 BELCO proposed a $300 million upgrade of the plant to include replacement of the diesel fuel engines and some investment in renewable energy plants.

However, two years later they have changed tack and BELCO has said that instead they are investing in LNG (Mello, 2013).

In the long-term we do not need the amount of electricity generation we have today. Time of day pricing and other ‘load shaping' measures can reduce peak demand, and Bermuda has done very little to reduce total electricity demand beyond some consumer education for energy efficiency.

Mandating energy efficiency for buildings could reduce demand for electricity by up to 30 percent (Gravelly, 2013) and other investments such as smart meters could save a further ten to 20 percent. This is where we should be investing as an island.

The fracking boom in the US has made LNG look like an attractive option today, but snatching at it like a child grasping at low-hanging Christmas tree baubles is not a long-term solution; replacing our ageing fossil-fuel plant with more of the same is inertia, not an energy policy.

We can and should replace the diesel fuel oil engines that will be retired with untapped options: conservation, smart meters, alternative energy storage options, and energy efficiency.

All of these require some investment — this is a sounder investment for the long term than LNG.

Dr Judith Landsberg is a former President of Greenrock

References:

BELCO (2011). Public Forum Presentation. Retrieved from www.belco.bm.

Department of Energy (2011). 2011 Bermuda Energy White Paper: A National Energy Transition. Retrieved from www.energy.gov.bm/portal/server.pt.

Bates, L, 2014. 2012 UK Greenhouse Gas Emission, Final Figures. Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2014. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/277021/20140204_2012_UK_Greenhouse_Gas_Emissions_Final_Figures.pdf

Brandt, 2014. Methane Leaks from North American natural Gas Systems. Science vol 343, pp 733-735.

EPA, 2014. Overview of Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved from http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html

EPA 2012. US Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/ghg/us-ghg-emissions.html

Gravelly, P, 2013. “The District of Columbia: A Case Study for Implementing a Data-Driven Approach for Sustaining Energy Consumption Reductions in Municipal-Owned Buildings”. (Unpublished Masters thesis), Duke, Nicholas School of the Environment. Raleigh, NC.

Hughes, J.D., 2013. “Drill, Baby, Drill: Can unconventional fuels usher in a new era of energy abundance?”. Post Carbon Institute. Accessed at www.postcarbon.org/reports/DBD-report-FINAL.pdf March 4, 2013

Mello, M, 2013. “Ascendant chief pushes LNG option”. The Royal Gazette, May 16, 2013.

Tomain, J.P. and Cudahy, R.D., 2011. Energy Law in a Nutshell. St Paul, MN, West Publishing.

Walsh, G.M., 2013. “NY Local Fracking Bans Upheld by Appeals Court”. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/02/ny-local-fracking-ban-appeals-court_n_3203120.html

Yergin, D, 2014. “Vladimir Putin won't threaten Europe's gas, for now”. Politico, March 3, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/daniel-yergin-russian-president-vladimir-putin-ukraine-crimea-104215_Page2.html

A Belco electricy usage meter is shown in this file photo.
The last of three 45-ton, 4.5 megawatt (MW) gas turbine generating sets is shown being delivered to Belco in 2010.The Centrax Gas Turbines Plc turbines are intended mainly for standby and peak load use.

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Published March 13, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 12, 2014 at 8:19 pm)

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