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Using green industries to transform the economy


Published: Jun 18, 2013

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According to an article in the New York Times, Lancaster, California, led by a Republican mayor, has set out to be the solar capital of the world. With a population about half the size of The Bahamas, it is similarly challenged with reducing public expenditure and creating good private sector jobs and is doing so by setting the bold goal of aiming to be the first city that is a net producer of solar energy.

In this city, they have required that new homes are built equipped with solar panels or be a part of a subdivision that produces at least one kilowatt per home. All of this is fueled by a climate that sees a lot of sunshine, falling prices for solar panels and having leadership that has stated that it will move mountains for developers who can produce energy without a carbon footprint, demonstrating this by the 15 minutes it apparently takes to receive a permit for a solar installation.

The actions of this small city provide some food for thought and while I don’t suggest we focus solely on solar we could be doing a lot more than we are doing now.

I believe that some of the obstacles that are holding us back might surprise you; they of course include uninspired leadership on both sides of the political divide, lack of knowledge of what is allowable within the bounds of the Electricity Act and the absence of loan programs to assist consumers or startups.

All signs do point to a green industry that is growing albeit incrementally, helped by the removal or reduction of duty on several goods like solar panels, hybrid vehicles, LED bulbs and Energy Star appliances.

But if we want to walk instead of creep, we need bold, well-informed, strategic planning beginning with a national education program for the general public and one specifically targeted at raising up a new generation of Bahamians who would eat, drink and breathe sustainability.

Such a plan would give consumers the option to sign up for power purchase agreements (PPA).

This would involve having a private company, for example, install solar panels, be responsible for their maintenance and you the consumer would pay them instead of BEC. Is anyone ready to sign up to be free to decide who to buy power from?

The provision of training, tax exemptions and loan programs do help people get set up in the industry. Hotels large and small that without government intervention have done what they can on their own should be incentivized to do more. By the way, there are examples of environmental stewardship to be found in privately-operated schools and businesses as well.

What is disappointing is when we start on the right track, there is a big press conference about the beginning of an initiative, followed by deafening silence, for example, what became of the Solar PV project that involved a partnership between our government and the IDB? There is also no further word on BEC and the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) project. Has anyone provided a follow-up on the electricity performance of those consumers who were given light bulbs?

Here is an opportunity to develop an industry that marries well with every industry in the country today, that is proven to generates jobs, boost economic activity, add to the skill level of the population, demonstrate environmental stewardship and actively help to curb use of traditional forms of energy with the knock-on effect of reducing dependence on imported fuel, reduce the need for capital expenditure at utilities while reducing financial pressure on businesses and householders.

What are we afraid of or are our political leaders too busy bickering?

• Send questions or comments to sbrown@graphitebahamas.com. Sonia Brown is principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd. and is a registered professional engineer.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 June 2013 16:56

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