The imperative of renewable energies

The litany of warnings raised worldwide nowadays about our dangerous addiction to fossil fuel energy is not just scaremongering.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that natural gas, coal, and oil constitute almost ninety (90) percent the power that mankind uses leaving a carbon footprint of global dimensions on the environment.

Imagine the world suddenly loses that ninety percent and imagine global anarchy. Global dependence on fossil fuel is unsustainable for two basic reasons. First is the environmental pollution Planet Earth suffers from greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) which is depleting the ozone layer causing global warming, rising sea levels, and erratic changes in weather patterns.

Mining and drilling operations produce toxic wastes, massive oil spills, and pollutants hazardous to human health and the ecosystem. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) likens global pollution to a ticking time bomb that could self-destruct by 2050 – unless we change course.

Second, fossil fuels are finite nonrenewable resources, rivalous and excludable economic goods that face the problem of scarcity. On world markets growing competitive demand maintains constantly rising prices and some scientists predict reserve supplies could be exhausted within fifty (50) years.

If this ominous prediction comes true and alternative energies are not harnessed to fill the vacuum the negative fallout for oil-import-dependent economies like Grenada would be devastating.

The bleak prognosis is a powerful rationale for taking immediate action for mass production of renewable energies everywhere. However, on the home front there is a far more compelling reason: “It’s the economy, stupid” – James Carville, U.S. economist and political strategist.

The CIA Fact Book puts Grenada 2011 import bill at $296 million with a trade deficit exceeding 700 percent and energy statistics attributes 15% imports ($44 million) to fossil fuels alone, most of it diesel for electricity generation.

Factor in government petro-products consumption, industry, and households and the result is a multimillion-dollar foreign exchange leakage.

Our PetroCaribe arrangement with Venezuela is “cold comfort” since it compounds our debt crisis and Chavez’s untimely demise puts the longevity of the deal under serious scrutiny.

And, notwithstanding the Trinidad/Grenada Marine Delimitation Treaty designating our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the eventuality of exploration and the probability of oil discovery within our marine real estate are indeterminate unknowns in this equation.

The good news is we are abundantly blessed with renewable resources for industries in solar energy, geothermal energy, wind power, and biogas and biofuel production from organic biomass. Overtime, we could exploit hydropower from tidal energy.

For production new technologies, capital investment, and know-how are accessed primarily from private venture capitalism, bilateral partnerships, and international institutions. With a labor-intensive workforce and high unemployment we possess excess capacity that can be utilised in scale production initiatives.

One caveat is the current “Green Revolution” motivating the international community to grant developing countries financial and technical assistance for environment-friendly initiatives that mitigate the impact of global warming.

The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) finances renewable technologies. IRENA, International Renewable Energy Agency, supports transition from fossil fuel to renewable energies. Like-minded agencies include the World Bank Climate Investment Fund (CIF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the U.N. lobbies for AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States and SIDS, Small Island Developing States.

Countries friendly to our cause include China, the world’s largest wind energy producer; Brazil, an ethanol champion; and the European Union, power broker for “green” economies.

The bad news is the centralized nature of our energy market with the GRENLEC monopoly “licensed to kill” with impunity all renewable electricity initiatives in Grenada, Carriacou, and Petit Martinique.

The 1994 Electricity Supplies Act provided GRENLEC unlimited leverage to hold our struggling economy at ransom for eighty (80) years ripping off consumers, stifling private entrepreneurship, and blocking investment initiatives with its prohibitive, anti-growth, profit-maximising price structures. Granted civil and constitutional remedies have been on the table.

The Electricity Act resulted from an unethical contract agreement negotiated under duress between parties with vastly disproportionate bargaining power. Therefore, under the Doctrine of Unconscionability the offending clauses of Sections 3 and 5, stipulating exclusivity and sublicense provisions, should have been deemed unenforceable and made void.

Legal luminary Dr. Lawrence Joseph suggested the requisitioning of a court declaration against the unconstitutionality of the clauses in the interest of the consumer public.

In the prevailing market climate any renewable electricity initiative will be unceremoniously squashed by the corporate giant.

The way forward demands radical reforms for an enabling environment that removes the monopolistic structural rigidities impeding progress in renewable initiatives.

Under the circumstances GRENLEC’s recent decision to divest is a major victory for government, business, and consumers. This is the time to level the playing field and change our energy production landscape for good.

The amendments to the Electricity Supplies Act and the reorientation of the contract agreement will break the suffocating monopoly stranglehold on the economy and set the productive forces free for a “great leap forward” in renewable energies.


Jay Bruno

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