Building energy security across the region was highlighted by President Obama's visit to Jamaica in April
“Energy security” is a term that is often overused in political debates. Frankly, those who talk the most about energy insecurity are often those with access to some of the cheapest and most readily available energy in the world: Americans.
The U.S. is a large country with vast, and growing, supplies of all sorts of energy.
But looking at energy perspectives around the Caribbean, one can more clearly see the problems of energy dependence and insecurity.
Aside from a few countries in the Caribbean (like Trinidad and Tobago), limited fossil fuel resources and a lack of infrastructure mean that the islands rely almost exclusively on imports of fuel oil.
Caribbean consumers really feel energy problems because electricity is too expensive. Businesses are harmed because an unreliable grid and uncertain supplies make it difficult to for them to invest.
The high cost of energy — in many places, electricity costs more than 40 cents per kilowatt hour — make the region uncompetitive against its competitors: in Florida, the average cost of electricity is about 10 cents per kilowatt hour.
On a larger scale, the dependence on imported oil has allowed a build-up of government debt and a flight of valuable capital from already-undercapitalised countries.
For more than a decade, Venezuelan subsidies through the PetroCaribe program have given a break to cash-strapped Caribbean governments — at the expense of some independence in foreign affairs.
Today, that program is threatened by an impending collapse of the Venezuelan economy. This could leave already-vulnerable Caribbean nations with a hole in their budgets that could comprise 10 percent of their government’s outlays, in some cases.
I’m an American writing from Washington, but my interest in documenting the energy development in the Caribbean is deep.
Over the next year, I intend to write a series of articles about how to build energy security, sustainability and affordability into the Caribbean energy system.
Recent events, such as the drop in the price of oil, the boom in American natural gas production and the revolution in renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar and geothermal, are combining to create a unique opportunity for the islands of the Caribbean.
Finally, this year will see a flurry of events on the international agenda leading up to the climate-change talks in Paris in December.
The islands of the Caribbean are some of the world’s most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels will threaten low-lying infrastructure and homes, while the possible increase in intensity of hurricanes will cause greater damage than those devastating storms already do.
While the carbon footprint of the Caribbean islands is hardly a blip in global greenhouse gas emissions, the moral leadership that these islands can make in moving to renewable power can be a catalyst for action by other states.
The American interest in building energy security across the region was highlighted by President Obama in his visit to Kingston, Jamaica, in April.
While direct spending by the U.S. government may not be high, American interest in the region is significant.
The Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, under the leadership of Vice President Joe Biden, is an opportunity for the islands to enhance their energy security, and the U.S. will help them make it happen.
This will be an ongoing series in which I intend to document the energy challenges, opportunities and breakthroughs. If you’ve got tips or ideas for what I should cover in the islands, contact me through my website, www.andrew-holland.com.