Opinion: Alternative energy

POSTED: 02/13/12 2:54 PM

With utility-bills skyrocketing and with consumers bracing themselves for the next inevitable power cut it is no wonder that people start looking for alternatives. Talk about the development of alternative energy sources have been going on for years, but the results so far let themselves be summed up in one four-letter word: zero.

That St. Maarten is slow in this field, while other islands are going out of their way to embrace wind and solar energy, does not surprise a lot of people. The GEBE-generators run on fossil fuel; that stuff is imported, and somebody is selling it to the utilities company. We don’t know exactly who receives which cut from this highly interesting pie, but it is certain that there are established interests at stake. And those interests will get hurt when alternative energy production gains a foothold on the island.

But no matter how much the government is dragging its feet, alternative energy will in the end become a significant power source.

It is remarkable that on our island, but on the other side of the border, the government is very interested in solar energy. There are hundreds of solar panels installed on buildings in the Hope estate commercial park, and schools in Marigot are also getting power from solar. Businesses in Hope estate rent lout their roofs for the installation of solar panels, and the owners sell the power back to the grid.

All this is obviously also possible on the Dutch side. So why is this not happening? There are several companies working in the alternative energy field. The Caribbean Energy Store is just one example, and it has so far installed 35 residential systems, and ten systems at businesses. The best known example is Blue Point in Philipsburg.

The electricity ordinance of July 26, 2010 is up to a certain point veiled in mystique when it comes to the possibility for home-owners to sell their surplus of alternative energy to GEBE. If a solar system produces more than it needs, the GEBE-meter is spinning backwards. So whether the utilities company wants it or not, it is absorbing this energy with “closed wallets.” No money changes hands, but the end result is that the meter’s owner pays less at the end of the month.

Still, the ordinance seems to put all the decision making power about these constructions in the hands of GEBE – the sole concession holder for the production and distribution of electricity.

Citizens are allowed to generate their own electricity (for instance by using a generator) during power cuts. They are also allowed to generate electricity for their own use up to 500kVA (equal to 400 kilowatt).

GEBE could be obliged, according to the ordinance, to buy electricity from a legal entity that has obtained a concession and from a private citizens who obtained a dispensation based on the fourth paragraph of article 2.

Maybe this sounds a bit like abracadabra, but it is interesting to know what this particular paragraph entails. Basically it says that the Executive council (and its legal successor, the Council of Ministers) can give dispensation to an individual or a legal entity that generates electricity that is not primarily for his own use. But this will happen only if the concession holder (GEBE) had confirmed in writing that it agrees to this.

And so the circle is round: nothing will happen if it does not please GEBE. But in the meantime there are places where its meters are spinning backwards and there isn’t a darn thing the utilities company is able to do about it – short of making itself even more unpopular by cutting solar powers houses and businesses off from the grid.

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