A Solar Powered Montserrat

David Thomson, Director of Montserrat Utilities Ltd. (MUL
David Thomson, Director of Montserrat Utilities Ltd. (MUL

The Government of Montserrat’s vision of 100% renewable energy by 2020 is in progress but is it doable without private sector involvement?

The plan as outlined by the national energy policy for 2016 – 2030 presents a strategy for utilising solar and geothermal with diesel energy as a backup.

Depending on who you speak to and their interests in this vision, 2020 is  a realistic target, while others believe Montserrat won’t be using geothermal by then but solar energy can be up and running as soon as 2017.

Work continues on the new power station which was expected to be ready in 2015, but significant structural issues have delayed the project, which is funded through the Caribbean Development Bank. Upon completion, the new plant in addition to managing fossil fuel, will be able to handle two forms of renewable energy. The current thinking is that these will be solar and geothermal energy.

According to Director of Montserrat Utilities Ltd. (MUL) David Thomson the plan is to create a solar park which can provide 250KW of power to the grid. Currently, Montserrat only needs 2.2 MW in its peak seasons. Average daily usage is on average up to 1.5 MW.

The solar project is to be funded through the European Union’s 10th EDF programme to the tune of EC$3 million.

Thomson explained that although Montserrat is blessed with lots of sun, solar does not provide a consistent source of energy which is necessary to supply the island. “The power generated varies throughout the day,” he said. “We need to learn about the stability of the grid” before more dependence is placed on solar. Battery storage is an option to support this. One consideration is to outfit government buildings such as the hospital and secondary school with solar systems which can supply excess power to the national grid.

Through the Ministry of Communications & Works under the direction of Hon. Minister Paul Lewis, the island has joined the 10 Island Challenge. This is an initiative by the Carbon War Room (CWR), spearheaded by philanthropist Sir Richard Branson and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) which is championed by former US President Bill Clinton. Both organisations are working to accelerate Caribbean islands transition from dependence on fossil fuels to using 100% renewable energy.

According to the CWR website, “working closely with island governments and stakeholders, CWR and RMI are now identifying each island’s optimum energy future by:

  • Developing a framework that drives implementation
  • Catalyzing the flow of capital to renewables
  • Creating an open playing field for technology providers to deliver solutions.”

The national energy policy uses similar language noting that the goal is to create an “energy sector that is supported by high levels of awareness among Montserratians of the importance of energy and its use in their daily lives and the contribution that each individual can make towards energy conservation efforts, thereby supporting the sustainable energy goals of Montserrat.”

It also speaks to attracting investors who can help to supply the expected demand for renewable energy solutions. To date, no clear policy on how private initiatives will be handled has been released by the government.

In recent weeks, one couple has been attempting to make such a contribution but have found there are several barriers to this.

Homeowner Chris Krueger wants to see homes on island solar powered and off the MUL grid.
Homeowner Chris Krueger wants to see homes on island solar powered and off the MUL grid.

Chris Krueger and his wife Eileen say they believe in the vision of making Montserrat 100% powered by renewable energy. Krueger said his request to meet with officials about his plans and his application to create a model of how homes can be solar powered has been ignored.

They were surprised to learn that although the government has embarked on its renewable energy 2020 plan, the structures are not yet in place to make it a reality or to allow for private residents to exploit the opportunities created by this energy policy.

The couple have imported enough solar panels to provide 100 KWh of energy, which is just about 5% of what the island needs for power.

Customs tariffs on solar panels and related devices have at least 30 to 40% duty attached. Krueger, who has built power plants in the US, said it is very possible for the island to be 100% renewable and solar power was one way that residents could participate in reaching the national goal.

“We are bleeding wealth. From the poorest to the richest on island. Everything is going off island,” he said of the annual cost of fossil fuel, which in 2015 costs 6.5 million EC dollars and was $10 million the previous year.

Krueger brought in 14 pallets of solar panels, which can provide 5% of the energy the island currently needs.
Krueger brought in 14 pallets of solar panels, which can provide 5% of the energy the island currently needs.

The homeowner said the plan was to purchase land to create a solar park which residents could benefit from but now he has learned that the government has no plans to grant licenses for private entities to do so. Instead, he is turning his energy to help interested residents outfit their homes so they are fully reliant on solar energy and MUL can be used as a back up.

But having residents off the power grid would further impact MUL’s bottom line, which is presently challenged by the significant drop in fuel surcharges.

Currently the government has no plans to allow individual homes to feed their excess energy into the MUL grid or to be paid for their energy as has become a common practice in larger nations.

The law does allow for residents to fully power their homes on solar energy, however the government is not promoting this practice. ((a) is used only for the photovoltaic generation of electricity for own use; – Licensing for Utility Services Act – revised in 2008.)

The MUL official said this would present other issues, one being that only residents with wealth would be able to afford the investment of installing solar systems to power their homes. MUL’s operating costs would then have to be carried by lower income residents.

Krueger disagrees, stating the needs of every home is different. “You can have two homes side by side and one can be more energy efficient than the next. You would have to do an energy audit before deciding what solar system to invest in.” He added that residents will see a return on their initial investment in four to five years. “If they didn’t have the import duties, residents would be able to see a return much sooner.”

He believes restricting the use of solar power to government buildings will not benefit the people. “The use of solar and geothermal will mean that MUL is spending less in fuel and these savings can be passed on. I really want to do good so we made the decision to bring in the equipment. We will see what happens when we need to bring in the additional equipment later this year.”

Other nations pushing a renewable energy policy are offering mechanisms such as tax holidays, tax credits, and loans for renewable energy integration. While Montserrat’s Energy Plan 2016-2030 speaks to this, it is not yet happening. Current thinking is that reducing or eliminating the tariffs on importing solar equipment would send the right message to global partners that Montserrat is serious about being 100% renewable and is engaging its residents to do so.


Montserrat’s Energy Snapshot

Montserrat’s Energy Policy 2016 – 2030