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BREA urges consultations on turning sugar industry into energy industry

By Jenique Belgrave

A non-governmental organisation focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency at the commercial, industrial and national levels is advising the Barbados Sustainable Energy Co-operative Society Limited (Co-op Energy) to engage in broad consultations regarding its intention to transform the sugar industry into an energy sector.

In an interview with Barbados TODAY, president of the Barbados Renewable Energy Association (BREA) Robert Goodridge stressed that due to the nature of the energy transition in small island states like Barbados, unique solutions “custom-made” for the environment were required, and this could only happen through full consultation with the country.

“To be honest, I do think that there needs to be broad consultation and consideration on it so that we are making the right decisions. So creative, innovative solutions are needed because we’re in a unique situation, but that needs to be mostly driven from a broad consultative basis. When I say broad, I mean the stakeholders, the economists, the financial sector, the private sector, and even the public need to be very involved, and their perspectives need to be incorporated into these kinds of decisions as far as if it’s viable so that we can avoid making costly mistakes,” he stated.

The co-op’s president Retired Lieutenant Colonel Trevor Browne revealed to Barbados TODAY last week that by the end of this year, it will be taking over the Barbados Agricultural Management Company which oversees the management, production and sale of sugar.

The plan is to invest more than $100 million to transform the sector from a focus on sugar production to an energy industry, in collaboration with credit union partners.

Lauding the move as a “noble and good initiative” as the cooperative was seeking to use “innovative, creative, non-traditional ways of achieving its objective”, BREA’s head said that it was critical to mitigate risks wherever possible in moving the operation to one of energy.

On Monday, in an interview with Barbados TODAY, economist Jeremy Stephen urged Co-op Energy to be cautious as it took the step to transform the sugar industry, noting that $100 million is a “very big gamble” and competition in the alternative energy sector would be tough.

Goodridge also urged the cooperative to move carefully and with due consideration in tackling the competition it will face.

“There’s a notion that competition is generally good and I think, in general, that’s true, but then there’s also a sense that certain industries are not suited for competition, particularly because of the scale. So in other words, because of the size of Barbados, and because of the scope, certain things will not be viable. You cannot set up another energy network in Barbados. That’s not going to happen because the cost is too prohibitive, and then it gives the whole reason why it’s been our ‘monopolistic baseline’ in the first place.

“So without reading and without actually going through the details of the proposal, certainly caution and due consideration is needed, because you don’t want to create a competitive environment for a competitive environment’s sake. You want to make sure that there is viability in doing it and that it’s just logical, given the environment that you’re really dealing with,” Goodridge advised.

He said that while Co-op Energy has not yet consulted with BREA on the proposal specifically, the association will be reaching out to the movement to contribute to the decision-making process in the interest of ensuring “the best viable way forward for the country on all fronts.”

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