Kennedy: Energy sector ‘stuck in 19th century’
Guardian Business Editor
Published: May 01, 2013
The Bahamas' energy sector is "stuck in the 19th century" and in need of major reforms, according to a well-known attorney and environmentalist.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., nephew of a legendary U.S. president, said the relentless importing of bunker fuel is not only expensive for Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), but these costs have inevitably been imposed on Bahamians, and as a result, the country is being held back from job creation and economic prosperity.
The call for renewable energy on this tropical archipelago is not especially new, although the message doesn't always come from such a well-respected source. Kennedy is the founder of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global moment in dozens of countries that monitors and protects 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines.
Amid endless promises and declarations on the merits of energy sector reform, Kennedy believes one simple shift would serve as the tipping point for The Bahamas.
"The island needs to have net metering and a rationalized energy system. I would recommend a real effort to implement net metering so individuals can install solar panels on roofs and sell the energy back to the BEC grid," Kennedy said, who serves as the senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group.
"The excise tax on solar
panels needs to be removed. These steps would make it economically rational."
The solution hasn't been lost on political leaders.
Back in January, Minister of Public Works and Urban Development Philip Brave Davis said draft legislation was before cabinet to change energy policy. However, successive government's have been criticized for failing to actually introduce these policies and lacking the political will.
From his discussions with political figures, Kennedy said there appears to be a desire for change.
While changes in policy will inevitably step on a few toes, Kennedy said the "instant" wealth from decarbonizing the energy grid will ultimately garner wide public support. The process, he explained, would certainly not occur overnight. Oil imports must continue to support the transitional period, and even after this point, fossil fuels are needed for peak periods, cloudy days or evening hours.
Meanwhile, Kennedy told Guardian Business that thousands of jobs would sprout from a solar power mandate in construction, maintenance, assembly and engineering. He said The Bahamas must start with the roofs, but the country might have to get "creative" by placing solar panels in driveways or in roads.
The top attorney also envisioned benefits for tourism, the country's number one industry.
"I think tourists will respond to a place that is responsible. It is an emblem for future generations and demonstrates clean and responsible government," he said. "I think tourists will feel they are in a place that is committed to the future."
Kennedy emphasized that The Bahamas, as an island nation mostly below sea level, should be acutely aware of the challenges associated with climate change and rising sea levels.
This country should "lead the way" and show the rest of the world what is possible, he said.