By: Bruce Levy, President & CEO, BMR Energy
The short term economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Caribbean has been devastating. Affecting governments, businesses and individuals alike, unemployment was – and still is – rife and the recovery will be long and slow.
A year ago many of us felt that the impact on the regional transition to clean energy would be equally devastating. Certainly, it hasn’t been easy. But what we have learned is that the transition is resilient and that the industry is capable of adapting to a challenging operating environment.
As we look around the Caribbean, for example, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of homes and small businesses that have installed solar PV generation equipment for their own use. This was driven by a combination of work-from-home and business curtailments providing time for people to focus on ways to improve their homes or businesses and reduce their energy costs. This contrasts sharply with the utility-scale, government-implemented renewable energy procurements that had been planned in multiple countries in the region. For the most part these procurements were tabled to allow governments to focus on the country-wide impacts of the virus.
In addition to the strong growth in residential and commercial renewable energy deployment, we have seen continued progress on projects which were already in development, albeit at a reduced pace. Through virtual PSC hearings, video environmental presentations, and the remote negotiation of equipment purchase and construction agreements these projects have been able to sustain momentum.
Another bright spot is the increased employment opportunities we’ve seen emerging for local renewable energy professionals. Take BMR Energy, for example, which has always hired local, in-country employees and consultants to support our development efforts. To keep development activity moving while lockdowns and quarantines were in effect, however, we expanded our use of local engineers, project managers, developers and other key project participants. As a result we were able to complete the development, and start construction on, two new solar projects – one in St. Thomas, USVI, and the other in Costa Rica – despite all the challenges posed by the pandemic. We have now adjusted our strategy to continue the increased use of local employees in all ongoing development activities throughout the region.
So the clean energy transition is intact. Now, as we look at the road ahead, we believe that renewable energy can power Caribbean economic recovery.
The drive and demand for renewable energy throughout the Caribbean and Central American region remains strong. Renewable energy is clean, cost-effective, and competitive. It also provides the benefit of reduced exposure to the cost volatility of fossil fuels. Before the pandemic, many countries had active plans to implement renewable energy procurements to replace or supplement existing oil-fired generation facilities that were often old and inefficient. Those facilities have only grown older during the pandemic and are likely now in more urgent need of replacement.
Now is the time for governments to take action to add more renewable energy to their electricity supply mix. If governments start now, they will benefit from low-cost energy sooner and will provide immediate jobs for local engineers, construction contractors and material suppliers.
BMR Energy and companies like us are ready to invest in the Caribbean and Central America. We are ready to build and operate renewable energy facilities to provide electricity to local utilities, industrial and commercial businesses. We use more local professionals now than ever before to implement and operate the facilities, providing an immediate boost to economies. By providing a source of clean, low-cost electricity, we improve competitiveness and the ability to attract new businesses. Ultimately, we drive economic growth in any country.
Every country around the world is considering ways to boost their economy after the devastating impacts of the pandemic. Now is the time to let investment in renewable energy contribute to the recovery of economies throughout the region.