Private Sector Central to Implementing Energy Agenda

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A government sets energy policy, determines the country’s long-term needs, and builds a foundation of laws and regulations—but in most cases, it is the private sector that handles implementation. That’s why business will have a seat at the table when the region’s energy ministers meet for the Third Ministerial Meeting of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA).

Representatives of the Americas Business Dialogue (ABD) attended the recent preparatory meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (see related story in this issue), to talk about the perspective the private sector brings to energy matters. An initiative facilitated by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the ABD fosters high-level public-private dialogue to promote economic growth and development in the region.

Whether an energy project involves installing a solar photovoltaic system in a rural community or interconnecting power grids across borders, the private sector can often facilitate investment, streamline processes, and solve problems, explained Scarlett Alvarez of the global energy company AES Corporation. “We have experience,” she said.

As Walter Sharpin of General Electric put it, companies can help governments figure out how they can use technology to address their energy-related needs. “Your problem has happened in some other place in a similar form,” he told the government representatives at the meeting. “Somebody has already worked on a fix or is working on a fix.”

Alvarez and Sharpin both sit on the ABD Energy Working Group, which promotes interaction between the public and private sectors to capitalize on the region’s energy potential. (See story in the April issue of the ECPA newsletter.)

At the ministerial meeting—to be held September 7-8, 2017, in Viña del Mar, Chile—energy ministers will have the opportunity to interact with representatives of the private sector during side events, as well as at a dialogue and breakfast sessions on the second day. Camilo Fernández de Soto of the IDB encouraged the countries to use these companies as a “sounding board” to discuss some of their energy challenges. He also noted that the ABD will serve as the official mechanism of consultation between the public and private sectors for the 2018 Summit of the Americas in Peru, which means that it will make recommendations on behalf of the private sector to the region’s heads of state and government.

At the recent meeting in Port of Spain, countries large and small agreed on the importance of public-private partnerships and dialogue. “Long-term solutions to the region’s energy and infrastructure needs really must involve the private sector,” said Daniel Villanueva of the Permanent Mission of the United States to the Organization of American States (OAS).

As Brian Challenger of Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “The private sector is what drives development in all our economies.”

Cletus Springer, Director of the OAS Department of Sustainable Development, suggested that the private sector could help governments better understand the “sustainable energy value chain” and the opportunities for green jobs. “We need to get the local population involved in the downstream benefits from the transition to sustainable energy,” he said.

ECPA, meanwhile, can facilitate greater engagement between the public and private sectors; for example, its Technical Coordination Unit managed by the OAS will serve as a mechanism for information-sharing with the ABD Energy Working Group. Springer underscored the OAS commitment to helping the region achieve progress on energy matters, calling ECPA “an instrument for hemispheric cooperation and action on energy issues.”