Doubts about natural gas mission

Recently, it was announced in the press that Barbados received funding from the Inter-American Development Bank for US$34 million for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. One of its objectives is to generate electricity as a transition strategy to renewable energy (RE). While this project might seem like a good thing, I have some serious concerns about it. The Government has recently committed itself to achieving 100 per cent RE and has set a target of achieving 65 per cent renewable energy by 2030. As we all know by now, the main reason for moving to RE is to reduce the fossil fuel import bill first and then to help reduce the negative impact on the environment. So, why are we investing in LNG?

LNG is a fossil fuel – albeit the cleanest of the fossil fuels. To generate electricity would mean retrofitting
and maintaining generating assets to support LNG, or worse, buying new generators to replace retiring assets. Every utility level asset has a minimum life of 25 years. So, if we are serious about moving to RE, why would we be making investments today that commits us to another 25 year of importing more fossils fuels? This doesn’t makesense to me.

Now let’s be clear. I understand that we will have fossil fuel generators around for some years, possibly 20-plus more years, but that should only be assets that were purchased in the last five years. Every retiring generation asset should be taking us one step closer to our goal of 100 per cent RE. The power of the fossil fuel industry is real and LNG is the cleaner alternative to diesel. I don’t have an issue with LNG being used for cooking or heating, but not
for electricity generation or even for cooling. The thing is, only recently the National Petroleum Corporation was
having significant challenges supplying natural gas to the restaurants.

So if we are talking about increasing the use of NG/ LNG we are talking about importing more, because currently Barbados imports approximately 93 per cent of its fossil fuels needs. So I don’t see any meaningful increase in local production. If we accept that one of the main reasons – and for many the only reason – for going toward renewable energy is to reduce the amount of foreign exchange going out to import fossil fuels, why would we be taking US$34 million to prolong our fossil fuel dependency?

Why not use it to develop a biomass plant? Why not use it to install a wind farm or a solar farm? Why not use it to develop solar thermal cooking and cooling technology? I am not saying we should abandon fossil fuels; that’s impossible at this stage. What I am saying is if you have limited funds, it should be spent exclusively on the main goal we are trying to achieve. Would you go to the bank and borrow $40 000 to fix an old vehicle and keep it running for another five years or borrow $95 000 and buy a new car which would last for at least ten years?

There is merit in both options. The thing is the loan will take you seven years to repay and in one option the vehicle will only last approximately another five years. Which means you would probably have buy a new vehicle at that point. Or you get the new vehicle which comes with all the benefits of newer technology and have another three years of use
after you have paid off the loan.

What would you do? I used that example because I want you to understand LNG is a real option, but I
hope everyone would agree it makes more sense to buy the new vehicle. It was a simplistic example, but there are other factors to consider. These include our COP21 commitments of reducing the use of fossil fuels, and the fact that to invest in RE would mean mainly a capital investment and little operating cost which requires no use of foreign exchange. This is compared to a capital investment that commits use to continuing increase operating cost with foreign exchange leaving the economy. RE has no negative impact on the environment. Should we be investing in obsolescence or investing in the future? The decision should seem very clear, yet here we are.

Are we serious about RE or not?

Jerry Franklin is managing director of
EnSmart Inc. Franklin is an engineer, energy
auditor, equipment tester, and energy solutions
provider. He is also vice-president of the
Barbados Renewable Energy Association.