Energy alternative worth looking at
I attended a community meeting on Thursday that spoke to concerns that I have had since hearing the urgent report last month by a United Nations agency on the matter of climate change.
At least 130 residents gathered at St Paul AME Centennial Hall to listen to presentations on the implications of Bermuda's energy use and its future environmental and economic implications for families, our island and the globe. The gathering was a joint initiative of the charity Greenrock and BE Solar, a small alternative-energy business.
Greenrock's Eugene Dean set the stage for the audience by explaining that the two organisations had collaborated to produce the Bermuda Better Energy Plan. This detailed plan has been developed over the past few months in response to the process set out by the Regulatory Authority of Bermuda to determine the way forward for Bermuda regarding our approach for the production of the island's electrical energy.
Mr Dean explained that given the history of the utilities monopoly in Bermuda, Belco had been given first dibs in offering a “Plan for the Future” for the island's energy supply. The second phase of the RAB's process involved an invitation to all other community stakeholders to provide a possible alternative plan to that of Belco. BE Solar took up this challenge, with the subsequent support of Greenrock, to develop an alternative plan. Technical help came from the British-based energy consultant Etude. These international experts included Chris Worbys, a team member whose mother is Bermudian and who worked for the Bermuda Department of Energy almost a decade ago.
Mr Dean went on to point out that this process has now come “down to the wire”, in that the RAB has set a deadline of November 30 for input. Consequently, Thursday's meeting was critical in that regard because it was an opportunity to invite the wider community to provide their input in this vital process. All residents are being invited to make submissions to the Regulatory Authority. The implications being that the outcome will determine an energy framework for at least two decades.
Kendaree Burgess Fairn opened the meeting's presentations with a brief overview of a review commissioned by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce. This inquiry was conducted by a group of United States-based graduate students, with the goal of assessing how Bermuda may prepare for future challenges to our economy. One conclusion reached by this team was the need for the island to diversify energy supply.
This was followed by a presentation by three team members from Etude, who provided a detailed overview of the Bermuda Better Energy Plan. The team members included two with master's of science degrees and one with a PhD in the relevant discipline, and they used the occasion to help the audience to understand the implications of this complex matter. They did this by comparing the alternative plan with Belco's.
The team contrasted the outcomes for the two different approaches. Belco's goal for the next two decades, up to 2038, would have alternative energy providing 5 per cent to 10 per cent of total energy needs. The Bermuda Better Energy Plan has a goal of 60 per cent of total source being provided by alternative energy sources by 2038. These “alternatives” would include mostly solar and some wind power — both sources being clean and lower in costs per kilowatt-hour than fossil fuel.
The team provided an overview of their costing assessment, which factored in the initial capital costs for the alternatives, as well as predicted maintenance costs.
They then provided an explanation of how this could be achieved, noting that the Bermuda Better Energy Plan would include having Belco provide back-up. However, this would result in a reduction in cost to customers and a reduction in pollution, since only 40 per cent of energy needs would require fossil fuel by 2038.
Among the interesting slides in their presentation was a bar graph that showed the plans of a number of our southern neighbours and their goals for the next two decades.
With Belco's goal for 5 per cent to 10 per cent of resources produced by alternative energy, Bermuda would be obviously behind the eight-ball when compared with our neighbours — St Kitts is targeting 30 per cent, Jamaica 50 per cent, Cayman Islands 70 per cent and Grenada 100 per cent.
An important point regarding the long-term implications of an acceptance of the Belco plan is that it would tend to lock in the island to fossil fuel for the next two or more decades. This is because its plan involves the creation of a liquefied natural gas storage facility, costing an estimated $120 million. While this alternative fossil fuel is somewhat cleaner than the heavy oil used at present, it does offer challenges regarding storage safety.
My wife and I are blessed with three grandsons, all under 5 years old. The decision that is being made regarding the island's future approach to energy supply will have substantial implications, not only for them, but all youngsters in Bermuda and around the globe.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda. Anyone who wishes to make a difference in securing that shared future can find out more at www.bermudabetterenergyplan.bm