Jamaica’s senior-most government spokeswoman on energy yesterday laid out government’s argument for proceeding with oil and gas exploration in spite of its push in recent years to adopt increasing amounts of renewable energy sources.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology Hillary Alexander told the audience at the Organization of American States (OAS) 70th Anniversary Lecture and Roundtable Discussion at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) campus in Papine that, in light of the intermittence and storage issues associated with renewables, it would be irresponsible of the country not to at least determine the quantity of the oil reserves.
“We have to maximise every possible resource or asset that we have,” she said in response to a question from the audience.
“Even as we have diversified and modernised, and made sure that we use energy efficiently, and are looking at building codes and standards and innovation in design of buildings and so on, …and even as we expand the role of renewable energy to improve our resilience, it would be irresponsible of the country not to do the required research to be able to establish whether there is a reserve that is able to be commercialised. and if we’re lucky enough to have that asset, to ensure that we have the regulations and the standards in place to ensure that we can do so responsibly and to ensure the safety of our environment,” she said.
Alexander added that the ministry is working with agencies such as National Environment and Planning Agency to propose new strategies and regulations to be able to harness oil and gas without negative impact on citizens or visitors.
“Oil and gas is another asset of our country, just like our people are assets, our rivers are assets, our forests are assets,” said Alexander.
The key, she reiterated, is responsible development of the resource so that the country can earn revenue and “achieve some of those development targets that have, in the past, eluded us”.
“It does not, in any way, negate what we’re doing for renewable energy on our grid,” the permanent secretary reiterated.
Jamaica currently has 18.9 per cent of combined installed capacity of wind, solar and hydro energy. The target is to get to 20 per cent by 2030.
Assistant secretary general of the OAS Nestor Mendez commended Jamaica and other countries in the region for the strides taken, noting that they are “doing their part to advance energy transition and to take advantage of the opportunities available to them to deliver modern and affordable energy services to the people”, even as he conceded that there is still much work ahead.
“In Jamaica, the local utility JPS [Jamaica Public Service] plans to build a 24.5-MW facility to strore energy as a safeguard against power outages. This it the first facility of its kind in the Caribbean. Jamaica also boasts the largest windfarm in the Caribbean, with an installed capacity of 62.7 MW,” Mendez said.
Listing examples from other countries, Mendez said: “Trinidad and Tobago is encouraging the use of vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. They have also removed import duties and other taxes on hybrid and electric vehicles. In Barbados, solar panels and water heaters are sprouting from private houses, government buildings, hospitals, police stations, and bus shelters. Dominica is investing more than US$40 million to build a 7-MW geothermal power plant that will reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. St Vincent & the Grenadines is examining ways of making government buidings more energy efficient.”
In spite of what he described as “examples of the resolve of governments, the private sector and citizens in the Caribbean to build a sustainable and resilient energy sector”, Mendez conceded that there is “tremendous untapped potential to improve energy reliability, sustainability and above all affordability”.
Yesterday’s roundtable also featured discussion about the importance of energy infrastructure that can withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes.
The theme of the discussion was ‘The Caribbean Sustainable Energy Challenge’.
For its part, UTech, Jamaica said the collaboration was a good fit given the shared mission of the respective organisations.
“I am happy that the University of Technology, Jamaica is partnering with the OAS for this special public education dialogue on the important area of sustainable energy. It is my hope that we will work together more closely in other areas for which the organisation has special competencie, such as education, infrastructural efforts and working to deal with security matters including cybercrimes,” Professor Stephen Vasciannie, the UTech president, said.
He congratulated the OAS on its 70th anniversary and hailed it as a source of “critical support to member states in building human capacity in many areas such as electoral observations, trade negotiations, natural disaster mitigation, governance, scholarships, and development projects”.