Low carbon economy?

In the fullness of time, the PPP/C’s version of access to information legislation will come under careful scrutiny however urgency is not required at the moment as it is clear to all breathing individuals that no functioning system will be in place before the general elections.

Yet, there is great need to pay careful attention to the government’s dealings particularly as it relates to pre-elections spending and its interest in the funds to be disbursed under the agreement with Norway which is now proceeding very cautiously as Oslo becomes more deeply acquainted with local issues and the government’s professed commitment to the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). It is through Oslo’s insistence on transparency that Guyanese have learnt that Oslo and Georgetown have presided over the disbursal of a sum of money outside the established mechanism to Conservation International. It was also learnt that Guyana has since requested a further sum outside of the established GRIF mechanism with Norway for the Guyana Forestry Commission to pay some of its consultants in relation to monitoring, reporting and verification of forest activities.

This is most disconcerting as it suggests that neither Oslo nor Georgetown had any qualms about going outside the mechanism enshrined in the MOU for disbursal of funds even though the Memorandum of Understanding had set out clearly the conditions under which funds would be released. The request by Guyana for further access to disbursals outside of GRIF suggests a sudden, great need which may not be unrelated to the approaching general elections. This request therefore requires close scrutiny.

Moreso as it appears that the government is making little evident effort to construct a low carbon, clean energy economy as evidenced by its recent power transactions.  Why if the LCDS had been on President Jagdeo’s agenda for several years did the Kingston Power Station apparently have no other option but to acquire fossil-fuel based generators this year? Indeed in 2009, the same Kingston plant had been outfitted with US$27.5M worth of diesel generators. Why are mobile caterpillar generators being acquired for service in various parts of the country instead of being decommissioned?

Last week, the Guyana Power and Light advertised in the state-owned Guyana Chronicle for three generators for the Essequibo River islands of Leguan and Wakenaam. The intention is to provide all-day power to the inhabitants of the isles and this will no doubt be welcome after many years of power deficiencies. Was the only option fossil fuel generators? Shouldn’t it have been mandatory, in keeping with the LCDS and the zealous manner in which the Office of the President has championed this cause for the government to insist that GPL, the Guyana Energy Agency and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology come up with a mix of clean fuel options for these two islands?

A commenter on the Stabroek News website raised this particular issue. Why has the government not sought to transform both of these islands or at least one into a model low carbon economy and clean power generator? Why not put to the test the potential for solar and wind power use here? The government’s low carbon network has been silent on this. Surely, a truly serious low carbon prospector would have railed at a utility company that hitched its sails so readily and easily to fossil fuel generators.

Just last week, the US Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton visited Jamaica for talks with regional foreign ministers. One of her duties was to preside over the signing of climate-friendly energy agreements with six Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas had seen the Organization of American States inviting all Caribbean governments in October last year to tender proposals. Twenty were received and as of this point it is unknown whether Guyana had tendered any. Antigua’s grant is for solar energy technology in its national parks, solar water heating accounts for Dominica’s while the Dominican Republic is applying its money to a demonstration PV solar system parallel to its utility grid. Grenada is developing geothermal resources, Jamaica is focusing on a wind-powered irrigation feasibility assessment while St Vincent will explore a photovoltaic project. All of these are eminently suited to Guyana’s LCDS. Yet we are not on the radar. It couldn’t be the case that Guyana thought the disbursals to these projects slight. Surely every single available green cent should be snapped up considering that the government faces tight fiscal circumstances on several fronts.
These blackouts in the actioning of the several LCDS drafts must call into question the seriousness of the intent of the architects of this project and whether the requisite execution capacity exists. Execution capacity, a longstanding problem in this country, cannot be taken for granted and it is noteworthy that the recent meeting of the GRIF steering committee spent some time on the need for a results framework for the projects to be implemented with the Norwegian money. Though its need had been pointed out since last year, Guyana had not yet delivered on the framework.

Aside from all this, there is clearly no evidence of a robust low carbon drive and clean energy substitution. The only other initiative is the supply of solar panels to Amerindian communities to be funded by the still unreleased Norway money. Such a project can easily be abused by the incumbent party in an election year and needs careful watching and sound underpinning. In a statement on Saturday, GINA revealed that Cabinet had approved the procurement of up to 11,000 65W Solar Home Systems. These systems can provide homes with power for lighting and small appliances.

Said GINA…”the electrification programme’s implementation forms part of and is a major component of the LCDS to transform the country’s economy and eliminate the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and rising fuel prices for electricity generation.” It is debatable whether this will be accomplished by these solar panels in any significant part and the administrative and maintenance costs for this programme will likely be very high.

It is unfortunate that great cynicism attends these PPP/C government ventures but this is fuelled by the administration’s unenviable track record of opportunism and misadventure.

The GRIF steering committee aside, it is high time that the LCDS steering committee declare to the Guyanese public the urgent steps that are being financed by the government to really lower the country Carbon footprint and why the government is zipping along with fossil-based power projects without any considered evaluation of alternatives.

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