It was one of the most important government decisions made in years, but it slid in under the media radar, blanketed by controversy over the so-called lawyers’ bill. Last week the Legislative Assembly voted unanimously for a bill introducing a national energy policy. This is good news for all of us. It aims for at least 70 percent of our electricity to come from renewable sources by 2037.
Enshrining the new National Energy Policy in law is remarkable for two reasons; firstly, it represents a complete U-turn in government policy. Until early 2016 successive governments had little interest in climate change or sustainable energy sources. CUC was seen as the authority on all energy matters by ministers and their watch dog, the Electricity Regulatory Authority, and was viewed by many as resistant to changes to a profitable business model based on electricity generated by diesel turbines. But here we are, just one year on, and a NEP committee, representing all stakeholders including CUC, has come up with policy recommendations which have been passed into law.
Secondly, it is a remarkable victory for non-partisan politics and common sense. In May 2016 Winston Connolly brought a private members motion to the LA calling for an energy plan that would deliver 100 percent renewable energy to the country by 2035. He believed he would have the support of most of the members of the opposition. What he did not expect was the backing of minister after minister who stood up to speak in support of his bill. When the bill was brought to the house last week, the government did not waiver and the bill was passed with a thumping 16-0 vote in favour. The Premier himself said immediately after the vote, “this is one issue we can all agree on.”
Governments are often criticised for lack of decision making on long term projects that spread past the next election cycle and into distant future. But on this issue the government should be congratulated on leaving party politics aside and working with the opposition in the common good. This was indeed a landmark decision in the history of the Cayman Islands.
Why is it so important? We all rely on energy − for us that is mostly electricity − in every aspect of our personal and working lives. A transition to renewables− for us mainly solar and wind − brings social, economic and environmental benefits. We will have energy security, save millions of dollars in foreign exchange and not be hostage to imported diesel supply and the volatile price of oil. Renewable energy will be cheaper and it is sustainable. It brings health benefits by not exposing us to air pollution and protects the environment. We will meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement and make our contribution, however small, to combating the threats posed by climate change which could be most devastating to small islands like ours.
But the NEP is not just about energy generation. It is far reaching, covering electricity, fuel, transportation, land use and buildings, water and waste water, the environment,energy conservation, creating clean energy jobs and adding another pillar to our economy. It has four main goals; to promote public awareness though knowledge and education, for Cayman to be a leader in the field amongst small island states, to ensure our energy security, and to build socio-economic and environmental sustainability.
There are two firm targets. To move from less than 1 percent of total electricity generation from renewable energy in 2015 to at least 70 percent by 2037, and to reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from12.3 metric tons per capita to 4.8 metric tons by 2030.
These are laudable and realistic goals, but implementing the NEP will not be easy. The transition from fossil fuels to 70 percent renewables presents many challenges. The Minister for Energy in the next and successive governments is mandated to provide leadership. The task of implementing the bill will fall to civil servants, OFREG, and the Energy Policy Council. The EPC will be responsible for monitoring progress, evaluating performance and recommending changes. It will represent all the stakeholders, including the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, whose President, James Whittaker, has been a tireless advocate for renewable energy and a valuable source of independent technical expertise and understanding of international developments in renewable energy.
Many have played a part in developing the NEP and bringing the bill to the Legislative Assembly, but it would not have happened without the vision, passion and determination of two men – James Whittaker and Winston Connolly -who in their different ways, reached for the stars and did what many believed was impossible.
By Graham Morse