Countries Prepare for Ministerial Meeting

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

With momentum building for the upcoming meeting of the region’s energy ministers—the Third Ministerial Meeting of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA)—representatives of 28 countries met on April 20 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, to discuss their priorities, needs, and potential for increased cooperation. Franklin Kahn, Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, summed up the urgency of the challenges ahead as countries strive to meet their ambitious goals on climate and energy: “The fact of the matter is that the world has to become sustainable,” he said. “When it comes to renewables, the clock is ticking.”

Speaking to the delegates on the eve of their meeting, Kahn acknowledged that his own country has lagged behind in renewable energy—a result of its abundant oil and natural gas resources—but stressed that it has made a commitment to change. (See related story in this issue.) “We have hitched our wagon onto the renewable resources agenda,” he said.

That move toward greener energy will be the central theme of the Third Meeting of Ministers of ECPA: “Energy Transition in the Americas.” In Port of Spain, where ECPA National Focal Points and other delegates gathered for the second and last preparatory session before the ministerial meeting, participants talked about their countries’ progress and problems in working toward more sustainable energy. The idea is that these discussions and detailed concept notes presented by each country will help identify specific steps to include in the 2018-2019 Action Plan to be presented for the consideration of the region’s energy ministers.

The diversity of issues raised throughout the session revealed the complexity of the region. Canada, for example, talked about its focus on reducing greenhouse gases by cutting methane emissions. For the United States, energy infrastructure and regional energy integration are priorities. Several countries—including Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Saint Lucia, and Uruguay, to name just a few—noted that they were looking at more-sustainable transportation options.

Three countries were participating for the first time at an ECPA event: Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Guyana. Nicaragua talked about the strides it has made to expand electricity coverage to more than 90 percent of the country today, up from 54 percent during the country’s “grave energy crisis” in 2006. Santiago Bermúdez Tapia, of Nicaragua’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, noted that the investment in the electric grid has essentially been done by the private sector using renewable sources of energy. The government’s approach, he said, is that electricity “is a right, not a service.”

Emphasis on Efficiency

Energy efficiency measures emerged as the top priority in the discussions in Port of Spain, mentioned by 16 of the participating countries. Renewable energy came in a close second.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is taking a “two-pronged” approach, explained Elsworth Dacon, who heads the Energy Unit in the Ministry of National Security. “We believe that renewable energy should not be explored in isolation, without the consideration of energy efficiency,” he said.

Ecuador made a similar point. “While energy generation is important, we must not overlook the broad sphere of activity of energy efficiency to optimize our energy use,” said Alex Patricio Posso, representing that country’s Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy.

Within their energy efficiency goals, countries have established different priorities, whether LED street lighting, more electric vehicles, or energy-efficient appliances. Panama’s representative at the meeting, Deputy Energy Secretary Isaac Castillo, said that his country had developed a construction code aimed at reducing the “tremendous waste of electricity” in buildings—especially glassed-in skyscrapers—and had implemented standards for high-use appliances such as air conditioners. “That’s critical for us,” he said.

Mexico implemented an extensive Energy Efficiency Program for the Federal Public Administration, which covers government properties, fleets, and industrial facilities. It offered to share its experience with other ECPA countries through seminars and training programs.

Peru has also mandated stringent energy efficiency requirements for the public sector, directing government agencies to buy energy-efficient products. It has established a National Saving Energy Day (October 21) and incorporated subjects such as energy efficiency and renewable energy into the school curriculum, “because we believe that the culture of rational and efficient energy use should be taught from an early age,” explained Javier Campos Gavilán of the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Education was a recurring theme throughout the daylong session. Colombia said that it had developed a guide for training teachers in today’s energy issues, which it believed could be replicated in other countries. And Ambassador José Serulle Ramia, who represents the Dominican Republic in Trinidad and Tobago, stressed the importance of energy and environmental education throughout the region. “If our people are not educated” on the subject, he said, “they will not participate in this energy transition.”

Growth in Renewables

Many countries in the region are investing in renewable energy as they seek to meet their international goals and commitments related to climate change and sustainable development. Argentina, for example, has declared 2017 the Year of Renewable Energy and has issued laws and regulations designed to spur the development of renewable energy sources beyond large-scale hydroelectric power. Several other countries—including the Bahamas, Chile, Grenada, Guatemala, and Honduras—mentioned that they had amended existing laws or passed new ones to encourage renewable energy production.

Paraguay, which generates its electricity from hydropower, stressed that diversifying its energy matrix is a major priority and said it is exploring potential alternatives, including solar and wind. Jamaica has been developing several renewable sources of energy, including wind and solar farms and small hydro projects. Betsy Bandy from the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, suggested that the country’s Wigton Renewable-Energy Laboratory could be a regional resource for training.

For small island states especially, dependence on imported petroleum products provides incentive to turn to native renewable sources. Christopher Joseph of Grenada’s Ministry of Finance and Energy explained that this reliance on imports “underpins the country’s lack of energy security and renders the economy hostage, if you will, to price volatility of the international oil market,” in addition to draining foreign exchange reserves.

Geothermal energy has potential in Grenada and several other Caribbean and Central American countries; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines called it a “game changer.” In Dominica, geothermal stands to replace at least 75 percent of the electricity now generated with diesel fuel, said Michael Fadelle of Dominica’s Ministry of Public Works, Energy and Ports.

Saint Kitts and Nevis, for its part, has identified geothermal energy as “the primary means to minimize dependency on fossil fuels,” said Kemoy Liburd-Chow, that country’s Alternate Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), adding that national efforts also continue in wind, solar, hydro, and waste energy.

Guatemala brought up a practical challenge related to renewable energy: the need to have the technical know-how to develop good data. The question is “what is our baseline, and how can we quantitatively measure whether adding in more renewable energy sources will really have an impact in terms of mitigating or reducing greenhouse gases,” said Karin Lorente of the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Another practical concern several countries mentioned: financing. “As a small island state categorized as a middle-income country, Antigua and Barbuda faces very peculiar challenges in raising money in international capital markets as well as in obtaining concessionary financing from development agencies,” said Brian Challenger of Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Bahamas, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia also mentioned access to financing as a priority as they seek to expand the use of renewable energy.

While renewable energy is the goal, natural gas can serve as an important transitional source of energy, noted Permanent Secretary Selwyn Lashley of Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries. He underscored that Trinidad and Tobago can play a role in that regard, adding that Chile is the largest purchaser of liquified natural gas from his country. Panama, for its part, said it hoped to take advantage of its geographical location and become a “hub” for natural gas.