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At risk jobs

Employment concern in renewable sector

Hundreds of jobs in the fledgling renewable energy sector, specifically photovoltaic installation, are in jeopardy due to “a lack of clarity” in relation to a number of legal, technical and regulatory issues.

Breaking the news today, Aiden Rogers, president of the Barbados Renewable Energy Association (BREA) and Executive Director Clyde Griffith also warned that future investments in the sector could take a hit if these issues were not quickly resolved.

The two officials spoke at the opening of the first Solar PV Training Workshop for industry players and financial and Government agencies at the Barbados Coalition of Service Industries secretariat.

The sensitization workshop was one of four targeting various groups to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy technologies. The aim was to increase competitiveness and also awareness among Barbadians about opportunities within the sector.

Griffith said the series of workshops was part of BREA’s contribution to helping bring about needed change.  He said a lot more was planned by the association but progress was being obstructed.

Pointing out that BREA member companies accounted for about 500 jobs in photovoltaic installation, Griffith said:  “Suddenly we find ourselves now where, because of some of the problems we face with the regulators, these jobs may be lost . . .”

“Because of what is happening in the bureaucracy, we find ourselves now about to lay off people, and we want to turn that around,” he added.

Rogers explained that while there had been some progress in the expansion of the industry over the years, further headway was being stymied due to slowness on the part of Government with regard to articulating a clear policy, and also a lack of decisiveness.

President of BREA Aiden Rogers

President of BREA Aiden Rogers

“There are still some technical issues emerging out of the GE-led [Barbados Renewable Integration] Study which, unfortunately, has presented a bit of a challenge for installers in the sector, because there has been a new technical requirement that was introduced in February,” he said.

Rogers went on: “… Since then, we have had a moratorium placed, by the Fair Trading Commission, on new installations [for grid interconnection]. In response to that, there has been a bit of disquiet in the sector but we are actively working on resolving this.”

“We have seen virtually no new installation taking place. A lot of business has been drying up for several of the installers,” added Rogers.

He said while the establishment of an Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Energy was positive news, questions regarding the licensing regime also needed to be addressed. There are at least six licensing categories created for residential and commercial customers. He said under the commercial licences, there was an indication that annual licensing fees will have to be paid.

“The question we are working through right now with the Energy Division and eventually the Advisory Committee to the Minister for Energy is what will the likely tariff mechanisms look like in relation to those annual licence fees,” the BREA president said.

“If we can get this licensing regime correct within the next few months, we can unleash close to half million dollars in investment here in Barbados, both foreign and local investment. This will have a significant impact in terms of our economy and foreign exchange position because it will reduce our fuel import bill,” said Rogers, adding that he hoped these issues could be worked out for the FTC “in the upcoming weeks”.

Stating that BREA saw the renewable energy sector as “the last frontier for economic enfranchisement for our citizens”, Rogers said “we must get it right”.

In relation to current and potential investment in the sector, he said confidence was very important since “financing does not appreciate delay”.

“You need to have all the structures in place so that the necessary financing measures and instruments can flow smoothly and investors can secure a return on their investment,” he said.

Meanwhile, one of the largest contributors to the expansion of the sector has expressed disappointment with the pace at which Government is moving with its renewable energy policy.

Describing the island’s annual fuel import bill of about $1 billion as tragic, Jannik Vaa, head of Infrastructure, Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change and Tourism with the European Union Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said he was eager to see faster movement.

The EU has increased its 2014-2020 grant to the region’s Development Policy and Agenda for Change to one billion Euros.

“We do see a regional energy policy. That is promising . . . in Barbados specifically, we are very much waiting for the Government to move ahead with its efforts to culminate an energy policy. We understand that there is a draft that has been prepared and the Minister is also wishing to establish a task force to move this energy policy forward. We hope that is going to start soon,” said Vaa.

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