Published On: Mon, Jun 3rd, 2024

Plenty of options to improve energy supply, but nothing is happening

By Hilbert Haar

The issues NV GEBE is experiencing to the dismay of many of its clients is not something that fell unexpectedly out of the blue sky. On the contrary, the issues the country has with its energy production are all well documented in a report that was published on August 22, 2014: The National Energy Policy for country St. Maarten.

The policy was an initiative of the Ministry of Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) and the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) cooperated with it. The 40-page report paints a vivid picture of challenges but it also offers some insight in possible solutions. Almost ten years down the road, GEBE is still confronted with repeated power cuts which it has elegantly renamed as load shedding.

The conclusion must be that nobody did anything with the report, or that our politicians simply ignored its contents, thereby accepting the consequences of doing nothing.

I will not bore readers with the many details this report contains. Those who are interested in it can download a copy the National Energy Policy St. Maarten below to access the whole caboodle. I will stick to some of the most remarkable highlights here.

The report’s authors were an optimistic lot, noting that measures and procedures are necessary “to mitigate the impact of energy usage on our environment while offering consumers lower tariffs.”

To achieve this, St. Maarten should focus its attention on renewable energy sources (like solar and wind energy) and reduce the country’s dependency on imported fuels. Savings in that department are more than feasible. In 2012 St. Maarten imported oil products worth 264.8 million guilders ($147.9 million), representing 18 percent of gross domestic product.

Of the 97.3 Megawatt installed capacity at GEBE at the time, 86 Megawatt was powered by heavy fuel oil. Fuel consumption in 2013 was 82.6 million liters and the fuel efficiency at GEBE was just 32.7 percent.

Tourism was booming in 2013 and that had its effect op energy consumption. There were more than 2 million visitors that year on top of the 20,000 regular GEBE-customers who consumed on average 1,500 kWh per month. The average monthly electricity bill that year was around $200.

A breakdown of the consumers GEBE serves shows that the twelve largest users consumed 422,631 kWh per month. Domestic users totaling 16,991 consumed just 949 kWh per month. There were 3,031 commercial clients who consumed 6,715 kWh.

Enough numbers for now. The core question is: what are the options to break the cycle of persistent power cuts? The report mentions five of them: cooperation with the French side of the island, a geothermal connection with Saba or Statia, purchasing LNG and LPG from regional suppliers and using the experience of other islands like Aruba with renewable energy.

“Not looking into sources of renewable energy will result ultimately result in higher fuel prices and higher utility prices,” the report states (so don’t say that we were not warned).

With the establishment of a national energy policy St. Maarten followed the example of 21 other islands in the region; among them are Bonaire, Curacao, Haiti and Jamaica.

Consumers in Aruba felt the positive effect of renewable energy production: the price of water went down with 30 percent and the price of electricity with 15 percent.

The report mentions that 14 percent of all consumption use on St. Maarten goes to the use of hot water and that using solar hot water heaters could save 300 liters of fuel per household. With 20,000 customers, the potential for saving is therefore an astonishing 6 million liters.

The report also made a price comparison for a Kilowatt of electricity whereby it set the GEBE-price at $0.22. The cheapest alternative is solar hot water ($0.10 to $0.12), followed by geothermal energy ($0.12) and offshore wind energy ($0.17).

Interestingly, the report presents a vision for SXM: 80 percent renewable energy by 2020 and 100 percent free of heavy fuel oil by 2025. In 2014 the authors projected that within two years St. Maarten would get 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources (with a contribution of 18 percent from the never realized waste to energy plant). The goal to produce 80 percent of electricity by 2020 from renewable sources and alternative fuels has remained a pipe dream. Replacing the approximately 3,500 street lights with LED lamps would have resulted in energy savings of 50 percent. The plan was to achieve this goal by 2018, but as far as I know (correct me if I missed it) this never happened.

The report’s conclusion is clear. The most promising options for St. Maarten are solar, wind and geothermal sources for the production of its energy. Other options are wave energy, deep sea water cooling and ocean thermal energy conversion.

All this makes me think that St. Maarten is not exactly short of options to do something about making electricity cheaper and more reliable for the customers of GEBE. However, politicians have been unable (or unwilling) to do something with these opportunities and the question everyone wants an answer to is: Why? (Or rather: why not).







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