Despite its commitment under the Caribbean Energy Policy (CEP) to generate 20 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources (RE) by 2017, a goal agreed to by CARICOM ministers of energy in March 2013, Trinidad and Tobago itself has a much more modest goal of only 5 percent by 2020.
This would amount to only 60 megawatts of electricity, according to government insiders.
This suggests Trinidad and Tobago will play an extremely modest role in the CARICOM targets of 28 percent by 2022 and 47 percent by 2027, as envisaged by CARICOM’s Energy Programme Unit at its headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana.
Why such modest goals for a country ranked second in the world in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita? It seems that the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago should be doing their utmost to help stem global warming, which is predicted to have destructive consequences for island nations like those in the Caribbean.
It was noticed that in his comprehensive address to the Energy Chamber luncheon in mid-May, Energy and Energy Affairs Minister Kevin Ramnarine never once mentioned what progress his ministry is making toward introducing RE into the Trinidad and Tobago power mix.
He did refer to CO2 tangentially, but only in relation to a research project by the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) studying the capture of such emissions.
It could be that the minister is leaving it up to the independent power producers (IPPs) — the Power Generation Co. of Trinidad and Tobago (Powergen), Trinidad Generation Unlimited (TGU) and Trinity Power — to make their own arrangements for adding RE to the power generation currently fueled by natural gas.
If so, the betting among analysts is that it will take a very long time.
This is because the IPPs seem to be waiting on the power transmitter and distributor, the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC), to advise them whether it would like to see RE added to the generation mix, either for current electricity supplies or for anticipated new demand for power.
As it stands, the IPPs, of which Powergen is the most important, take their cue from T&TEC on how they should structure their generation capacity to meet its needs going forward.
“T&TEC works out its requirements for electricity well ahead,” explains Fitzroy Harewood, Powergen’s general manager. “The IPPs then have to decide how they meet those requirements. We have to work with T&TEC, and they say when they need generation and we decide how best to meet that. We are guided by the Commission’s appetite for electricity.”
Mr. Harewood does concede that “T&TEC has told us they would like to have RE in the generation mix, and we have taken that on board very seriously.”
But Harewood and his fellow CEOs have to grapple with the cost factor — at the present favourable price of natural gas, any source of RE, be it wind or solar, would have a hard time competing with gas.
While the cost of establishing a wind farm is coming down worldwide, the IPPs would need a respectable return on capital for any such initiative, which would then determine the price they could charge the transmitter.
Despite this, Harewood is adopting an ambitious posture and says that “maybe a Powergen subsidiary company could get into this and we could set up a wind farm and consider IPP arrangements for that. We would see it as a supplement to the main gas-fired business.”
To be fair, MEEA has not been entirely indolent in the matter of RE-generated power.
As Randy Ramadhar Singh, RE adviser to the energy minister, has noted, “We have been pushing off-grid projects, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) units, solar distillation systems in 50 schools around the country and 30 community centres are being equipped with PV lighting for exterior needs.”
The Ministry of Public Utilities assistance programme for the installation of PV systems in low-income households without electricity is also under way, and the Housing Development Corp. (HDC) is also pushing solar street lighting in its housing estates.
Electricity from solid waste sources is also in the cards.