Caribbean needs cheaper, reliable energy

At 40 cents a kilowatt hour, Caribbean consumers are paying four times more than what consumers in the United States pay to keep the lights on.

Those high energy costs, like the discounted Venezuelan Petrocaribe oil subsidies many countries have come to rely on, are not sustainable, energy experts said Thursday, urgently calling on Caribbean governments to explore cheaper, reliable fuel alternatives such as natural gas.

“If natural gas can play a role.. than why not?” said Christian Gischler, senior energy specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank. “But every country must decide what is best for them.”

The call comes as analysts increasingly speculate that Petrocaribe will not last given Venezuela’s ongoing financial turmoil, and as shale gas increasingly becomes a source for natural gas.

“We are saying, ‘Guys, you need to wake up. You need to have a transition plan,’ ” said Gerard Johnson, the IDB’s Caribbean manager. “It isn’t wise to be playing Russian roulette everyday that you wake up. Is it really wise to say I’m going to gamble, because basically it’s gambling, that Petrocaribe is going to survive?”

On Thursday, the Bank led a daylong conference on the Caribbean’s energy future with government ministers and private investors. Addressing the high costs in the Caribbean’s already deeply indebted nations has become a key focus for the IDB, which issued a preliminary report on the potential benefits of natural gas for the region.

Next week the Bank also is sponsoring a two-day gathering of hotel owners and operators in the Dominican Republic on energy. Attendees will visit the Dominican Republic’s wind-farm, natural gas plant and learn about how the nation is using seawater to cool hotel rooms.

“The message for regional integration for scaled up procurement of alternative fuel sources and the urgent replacement of the existing aging energy-generating infrastructure is a wake up call that every Caribbean country should heed,” said Jerry Butler, chairman and founder of the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF), which is hosting the Dominican gathering.

“A collective long-term plan to solve common challenges is badly needed,” added Butler.

IDB officials said they stand ready to help nations access financing and partnerships to make the transition and create the conditions for better efficient use of energy.

“We need coordinated action,” said Ramon Espinosa, IDB lead energy specialist, echoing calls for governments to go out as one group to attract better pricing.

Trinidad and Tobago officials also said they stand ready to help the region address its energy problems. The sixth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, the nation has an over abundant of supply now that its biggest customer, the United States, is becoming self-sufficient because of shale gas. But there is a challenge, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said. It is getting “natural gas to our neighbors in the Caribbean,” he said.

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