Sustainability and the Law
Transitioning to Renewable Energy
Few economies are as dependent on oil as the BVI, where 100% of our electricity and transportation is dependent on fossil fuels. Recognizing that our society’s economic success has been driven by cheap, readily available oil, countries around the world have turned their focusing toward increased sustainability rather than short-term return on investment.
The European Union has set a 20% renewable energy contribution objective toward the energy mix by 2020, which Germany is well on its way to achieving. In addition, Germany has committed to placing one million electric cars on the road by 2020. China and Israel have also been committing to electric cars, car charging infrastructure and battery exchange stations. With car manufactures' transition to electric technologies it’s clear that oil is not expected to last forever. So what will power the BVI into the future?
Solar panels act as a secondary source of energy for a household on Tortola. Photo provided by AES.
Wind power has been used for centuries and offers areas like the Virgin Islands a competitive alternative to diesel power at today’s fuel prices. Solar power has also become a viable alternative at today’s electricity prices of $0.35-$0.40/kwh. Progressive policy in Barbados has established a thriving solar hot water industry and growing energy contribution from grid tie wind projects. With the US Virgin Islands utilizing these same technologies to reduce fuel consumption by 60% before 2025, why has progress toward renewable energy in the BVI been so slow?
Legislation! Power generation is governed by the British Virgin Islands Electricity Corporation Act (No 7 of 1978), which states:
“ … No person other than the Corporation (BVIEC) shall use, work or operate or permit to be used, worked or operated any installation designed for the generation of electricity or the supply of electricity to or for the use of any other person, except in accordance with the terms of an authority issued by the Minister.”
This legislation was originally penned to ensure sufficient revenue to fund BVIEC infrastructure and prevent hundreds of residents from installing their own generators—but it also inadvertently restricts the implementation of renewable energy.
In a world where environmental sustainability has increasing appeal to tourists, the BVI's transition to renewable energy integration is critical. Private islands not supplied by the BVIEC are free to utilize renewable energy sources—and they successfully are. Resorts such as Cooper Island Beach Club, and those on Peter, Moskito and Eustatia islands have all invested in renewable energy supplies. Cooper Island’s objective of carbon neutrality for power production will soon be reached through the expansion of their renewable sources. Currently, 90 solar panels power 75% of the resort, while plans to bring wind energy are being hatched to provide sustainable power to the remaining 25%. Peter Island has significantly reduced their dependency on fuel through the installation of two large wind turbines, and Sir Richard Branson’s Moskito Island also plans to use similar methods to integrate renewable energy production to reduce carbon emissions.
So why can’t the average person on Tortola or Virgin Gorda invest in solar and wind technology? You can, but only for backup power purposes. The real opportunity to increase sustainability of our power supply and reduce our electric bills involves the integration of distributed grid-tie renewable energy sources. Let’s assume 5,000 rooftops in the BVI are producing an average of 3kW of solar power each. The solar contribution to the grid would be 15MW during the day—almost half of the BVI’s current diesel power capacity; how do we get there?
Progressive examples of renewable energy integration around the world are legislation driven. Governments are establishing financial incentives and simultaneously requiring utilities like the BVIEC to accommodate privately owned renewable power generation sites that contribute to the grid. Sustainable energy policy creates opportunity for citizens to reduce their electric bill, develop profitable power plants and increase the sustainability of the countries energy supply.
Such legislative initiatives are required to accelerate the BVI’s transition to renewable energy. The Department of Natural Resources and Labour, responsible for the development of the BVI’s energy policy; and the Department of Communication and Works, which oversees the BVIEC, recently initiated the development of an energy committee consisting of stakeholders in both the public and private sector. These initiatives, combined with the public’s demand for greater freedom to produce alternative energy, will establish the legislative environment needed for renewable energy to flourish.
As electricity demand increases over time with continued development throughout the islands, renewable energy dependence must grow with it. Allowing the renewable energy supply mix to grow naturally will offset the need for additional diesel capacity. Because this transition will not occur instantly the BVIEC will be able to monitor the transition and contribution of renewable energy. Over time history will enable the utility to rely on this distributed power contribution incorporating the growing renewable energy supply into their supply models.
The BVI enjoys an abundance of sunlight and wind. Enabling and encouraging BVIslanders to invest in alternative energy systems will reduce fossil fuel dependence and increase the BVI’s relevance as an eco-friendly tourism destination. Failing to initiate this transition could result in a crippling future dependence on fossil fuels when supply and cost are unpredictable.