Region can do more to give ease in NRG costs

Barbados and its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) neighbours have been given a subpar rating for not doing more to build out the renewable energy sector thereby providing an ease in the cost of fuel for individuals and business operators.

Recently appointed Secretary General of CARICOM Dr Carla Barnett said the region should make it a priority to invest more in renewable energy, pointing out that in addition to cheaper electricity prices for householders and businesses, the region could save more than US$5 billion over a 20-year period.

Dr Barnett stressed that as the region strives toward the goal of being more resilient major focus must be on the expansion of the renewable energy sector. She pointed out that while the average contribution of renewable energy power to the electricity sector in the region had doubled over the last decade from around
six per cent in 2010 to around 12.3 per cent in 2019, it simply had not gone far enough.

“The target is for 47 per cent by 2027. However, renewable energy deployment remains below par and there is much more that needs to be done for consumers and businesses to benefit from lower prices and improve their competitiveness,” said Dr Barnett.

“If CARICOM countries invest optimally in renewable energy generation, they could save US$5.7 billion in generation costs from 2020 to 2040, increasing the share of renewable generation by a factor of almost four, while reducing electricity costs, oil imports and carbon dioxide emissions,” she said.

Her comments come as residents and business leaders in Barbados continue to cry out over high fuel costs, which they say were putting significant strain on their already stressed finances. However, after signaling that government would be looking at the possibility of putting a cap on the tax on fuel if oil prices continued to rise, the Mia Mottley administration later indicated that several events including the pandemic, Hurricane Elsa and the ash fall from the La Soufrière volcano had placed the economy in a delicate state.

Earlier this month, Minister of Energy, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Kerrie Symmonds indicated that his ministry was still examining ways to provide an ease to residents and businesses. He suggested that the most likely option could be changes to the excise tax placed on the commodity. Dr Barnett said she saw no reason for the region not to capitalise on its “immense renewable resources potential” in the areas of biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, and hydro.

What is more, the CARICOM official suggested that incentives should be put in place to encourage greater use of clean energy within firms. She said: “The region needs to continue to promote the use of green energy in MSME through, for example, provision of tax
incentives for green energy adoption, and blend with financing options for the capital costs associated with transitioning to renewable”.

“Common approaches across the region will lower transaction costs for private suppliers and investors, broadening the market, increasing competition and benefiting Caribbean consumers,” she added.

Dr Barnett was addressing the recent State of the Sector Conference of Small Business Week 2021, which was hosted by the Small Business Association (SBA) under the theme Building Back Better – the Road to a Resilient and Resourceful Recovery.

She also announced that starting next year, the CARICOM Secretariat would be embarking on a major gap analysis of the information and communications technology sector across member states to identify gaps that were affecting the business community, and put forward recommendations.

“In the coming year the Secretariat will embark on an ICT sector gap analysis across CARICOM with funding under the 11th European Development Fund. This gap analysis will support the recovery efforts of the region through the identification [and] quantification of critical parts of our digital infrastructure and help to fast-track digital transformation,” she said.

“The digital task force which has been established will provide technical guidance on the development of digital skills and capability across CARICOM. I urge organisations such as the small business associations across the Community, to become engaged in the work of the task force both to enhance skills and glean knowledge to improve the conduct of your businesses,” she said.