BL&P says it’s in a conundrum over solar move
A top official of the Canadian-based Emera, parent company of Barbados Light & Power (BL&P), says there has been a significant “disconnect” between BL&P and its customers on the pace at which renewables should be introduced into the domestic market.
Chris Huskilson, the Chief Executive Officer of Emera, the BL&P’s parent company, made the remark during a public discussion on Renewable Energy Leadership in Barbados last night at which he reported that the move towards solar systems on the island had affected “about half a per cent” of BL&P’s customer base to date.
BL&P’s Executive Chairman Sarah McDonald also described ongoing transition to renewable energy as “a bit of a catch-22” and “a conundrum” for the island’s main electricity provider, which she said was actually “promoting” a decline in its own sales.
“. . . And so we’ve seen our sales decline, which is obviously impacting us. We recognize that the only way to ensure those sales come back, or we find a different approach, is if we keep our costs down,” she said.
Also noting that BL&P’s electricity costs were currently the third lowest in the Caribbean, McDonald, who is also interim managing director of BL&P, acknowledged the need to bring them down even further.
“While we recognize that’s no solace for people who are currently paying it, we are performing well in comparison. The operating team is very focused on trying to bring that down because we know if we lower the price, people will consume more, or businesses will come. And that’s where growth will have to come from. And so it’s working right now in Grand Bahama; we believe it can work in Barbados as well.”
Fielding a query on the fate of BL&P employees, Huskilson said, “I think the very first thing, the most important thing for stability for employees, is to have a stable business . . . At this moment our business is shrinking so we absolutely need to create more stability around it.”
On the issue of customers opting for independent power supplies and leaving BL&P, the CEO of the Nova Scotia-based parent company said “one of the challenges with having the grid disintegrate is that you no longer get to share across the electricity system and among customers.
“So an example of that right now is that half a per cent of people that put solar panel on their roof or in their businesses are actually getting to see a lower cost because of that opportunity. And so are the rest of the customers.
“If all those people who were actually installing solar panels were off the grid, then that same relationship wouldn’t exist,” Huskilson said.
However, he said Barbados Light & Power was changing its approach to clean energy on “a very rapid basis”.
Since its takeover of the local electricity supply services four years ago, he said Emera had increased promotion of domestic solar power hookup on the Renewable Energy Rider system.
“By 2012 it became quite clear to us that there was a significant disconnect between the utility and the customers on the pace at which renewables should be introduced in this market.”
“In fact, more than six megawatts of capacity has been installed, and there is probably at least another six megawatts that’s waiting to begin to move forward,” he said, noting that despite the pace of solar installation in households, “to date that only affects about half a per cent of our customer base. So the opportunity is there to begin to affect more and more of the customer base, and to do more”.