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Are we serious about changing our energy ways?

This past weekend, the Energy Efficiency Forum and Exhibition provided much food for thought.

Speakers presented on fuel cell technology and ocean thermal energy. We were advised on changes to come in the lighting industry – and the list goes on. In fact, the opening session included the general manager of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) and the minster of state for the Environment.

The opportunity was there to hold their feet to the fire. I was hoping that the business community would surprise me and show up in record numbers.

But we did what we usually do. The few companies that are ready to make change attended, asked questions and benefited, and the rest of us stayed in our offices so we could complain about BEC and the government in private.

While I applaud the efforts of the government in undertaking the Fitchner Report, what we need is bold leadership around the issue of energy.

For us to move forward and get really serious, a bi-partisan plan lasting no less than twenty years needs to be developed, inclusive of a definite timeline for the delivery of much needed changes to existing legislation. Such a plan would provide relief for the Bahamian people by way of educating them on the obvious things they are doing that hurt their own utility bills. It would involve real and not partial incentives to consumers willing to invest in alternative energy and entail a plan to make hotel owners more accountable for the misuse of energy – an abuse so great that the Fitchner report was able to identify on average 53 percent savings, and this is after some properties admitted that they had already made some green changes.

Focus on this sector is important because if these savings were realized, according to the 2009 numbers, that would free up at least 10 percent of the demand placed on BEC. This power could be made available to assist BEC in providing a more stable supply to smaller consumers.

These properties that support our bread and butter industry are crying out for help. A long-term energy plan would include efforts to assist financing green projects for hotels and provide the technical support to ensure that when these initiatives are undertaken they remain successful. Investing in ensuring our hotels use energy well means less pressure on BEC to have to invest in more capital infrastructure.

All the ingredients are there- fuel prices are high, infrastructural development is outpacing energy supply and there are enough persons motivated and interested to make this happen.

How can our leaders know what we want if we do not tell them? When forums are provided for the purpose of engaging our policy makers, we need to show up and ask the tough questions.

When the politicians and would-be politicians come around in a few weeks asking for your support, will you ask for a T-shirt, a refrigerator, money to pay your light bill or a realistic long-term bi-partisan plan to reduce the energy costs for all Bahamians?

Challenge for this week:  Make the effort to increase your energy literacy and learn how you can change things for yourself.

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Sonia Brown is principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd. and is a registered Professional Engineer.

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