“Saba Electric Company endeavors to go green”

In their press release of March 16, The Saba Electric Company announced their efforts to go green and reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. The Saba Electric Company (SEC) N.V. is endeavoring to make prodigious, and sound, investments in renewable (solar) energy.

Such an investment will contribute to the sustainable development of Saba and the promotion of Saba as a “green island”. SEC presently relies solely on gas oil for its production of electricity, which is a costly and, ultimately, unsustainable operation for electricity production and distribution for the company and for the people of Saba.

The cost of electricity, which is provided by SEC, is artificially priced about 35% below the cost of production, meaning SEC is currently charging its customers less than it should, thereby losing one-third of its costs. Since its split from GEBE St. Maarten in January 2014, rather than penalize its customers, SEC has been absorbing these losses in an effort to provide its customers with affordable energy.

As 2014 was the first year of operation of SEC and the plans for relocation of the power plant and the solar park had to be developed, the Ministry of Economic Affairs agreed to cover these losses in 2014. From 2015 onwards, SEC has to incur these losses and therefore wants to reduce them as soon as possible.

The fuel clause which is passed on to SEC’s customers is linked to the price of heavy oils, which is volatile. At the moment, world oil prices are low, but they were high when SEC started its operations last year and most of 2014. The risk that these prices can skyrocket again is ever present, which would, in turn, increase the cost of electricity production exponentially, thereby effecting purchasing power and the cost of living for the people of Saba. If efforts are not made to invest in and move toward renewable energy, SEC will continue to be reliant on fossil fuels for its production of electricity, and the stability of Saba’s economy will hinge on the uncertainty and fluctuation of world oil prices. Without the incorporation of a solar farm, the cost of electricity for the citizens of Saba may increase by approximately 1.5 million USD per year.

Already SEC has invested in slow-turning engines, which will increase fuel savings, for its new power plant, the relocation of which is financed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

This, however, is not enough to turn SEC into a profitable company. In order for the company to achieve profitability, SEC has to invest in renewable energy, which is why the Ministry of Economic Affairs has made available subsidies also specifically for such investments. These subsidies are not for the company’s losses, however. The 11th EDF (European Development Fund) is also willing to invest in renewable energy. SEC has a limited time frame to make these investments.

Saba Electric Company’s greatest challenge, at the moment, is the acquisition of parcels of adequate land that are suitable for housing a solar farm.

SEC recently received a considerable amount of attention from within the community following the clearing away of vegetation from a parcel of land, which is in fact a prospective site for a solar farm, on the hillside above Saba University School of Medicine in The Bottom.
The decision to consider this piece of land as a prospective solar farm site was based on the fact that it is government-owned and faces the sun. Saba’s government owns very little property, which makes acquiring sufficient land for projects of this magnitude problematic. Most property on Saba is privately owned and, often times, undivided, which presents its own, additional set of challenges. The land near the medical university was cleared so that SEC and the potential contractors could get a proper lay of the land, its topography, which the contractors need to factor into their bids.

However, SEC will not make any final decisions without the expert advice of technicians and engineers. Studies will be done on the potential effects of flooding and erosion in order to avoid any damages to private property. In addition, the reflectivity of the surface of the solar panels used for this project will be nil. SEC will use solar panels with an anti-reflective layer to prevent any reflection or glare in order to best suit Saba.

The realization of this project, and the benefits thereof, requires the cooperation of the people of Saba. Simply put, their cooperation is vital. Persons within the community who are in ownership of property with the capacity to house a solar farm are encouraged to contact Saba Electric Company to discuss the possibility of SEC purchasing or leasing the land.

In order to be leased or purchased by SEC for this project, prospective properties must meet certain criteria: (1) the prospective parcel of land cannot be too steep, (2) it must be situated in an area that receives a large amount of sunshine throughout the course of the day, (3) the lay of the land must be facing south, and (4) it must be close to the SEC grid and easily accessible. SEC requires approximately 20,000 square meters of land, in total, to install 2MW, which will be connected to the grid.

Because Saba is only 5 square miles with limited land availability, there are few locations on the island that can house a solar farm without it being seen.

In the past, numerous tests were conducted to explore the feasibility of wind-generated energy, but because Saba lies within the hurricane belt and land acquisition proved to be too difficult, this project never saw the light of day, thereby eliminating SEC’s opportunity to break free of its reliance on gas oil. In order to stabilize costs for SEC, and therefore its customers, it is paramount that SEC’s solar energy project be realized.

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