Global demand for renewable energy has the attention of VROMI Minister Christopher Wever who broached the subject of moving towards green energy during his first interaction with energy and water supply company NV GEBE's CEO Kenrick Chittick on Saturday last week.
The Minister of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Development and Infrastructure (VROMI), expressed his concern over the Island's high energy cost and said there is a need for permanent solutions to reduce the cost of electricity for the consumer.
Wever spoke frankly with Chittick following a recent power outage on St. Maarten, which stemmed from a damaged engine and resulted in load-shedding for three days. He wanted to know about the company's plans to move towards alternative energy sources, especially considering the negative environmental impact of Fossil Fuel.
The increasing intense hurricanes seen in St. Maarten when hurricane Irma devastated the Island and hurricane Dorian's recent destruction of The Bahamas leaving many dead and over 70,000 homeless, is also a cause for concern.
Wever said, "We cannot ignore our negative impact on climate and the role we can play in climate change even in the smallest way."
He said, "Just by using alternative energy we can keep more money in the pockets of single mothers who have to struggle with the cost of school and clothes for their children and to maintain a household."
"We can keep a small business going because the owner now has enough money to pay his employees and maintain his operation."
These benefits alone are significant wins for us, especially since we are still in recovery."
Chittick explained that the company has already been leaning towards Solar Energy. Several options were explored, including putting Solar Panels on the roofs of School Roofs or over parking structures to generate energy. The discussions were put on hold after Hurricane Irma struck the Island in September 2017 damaging many of the facilities considered for the program.
In general, GEBE has also looked at increasing its energy output capacity. They already purchased an area of land near the Cay Bay Power Plant where they plan to install a new engine. The plans call for the demolition of an old building that has been in existence for nearly 50-years.
Other options considered in the past was using Liquid Natural Gas to power engines. Whatever is ultimately decided, Minister Wever intends to support the company's move to cleaner, more cost-efficient source of energy for St. Maarten.
Thanks to Sol Petroleum St. Maarten GEBE does not have to search very far to source fuel. The challenge though is GEBE's storage capacity is too small to capitalize at times on global market changes in fuel costs. Whenever this is possible, Chittick told the Minister the cost savings are passed on to the consumer.
The question raised in the community is whether the time has already come for GEBE to move from fossil fuel with its high percentage of Carbon. Many believe that the Caribbean Islands such as St. Maarten are ideally suited for the use of Solar Panels because of its year-round tropical sunshine.
"We must take stock of the impact we have had for many years on the environment." Wever said on Sunday, "By our actions, we pollute the air we breathe, and we also leave a heavy financial burden for low-and middle-class income homes."
Wever says as Minister of VROMI he intends to work through his Ministry with GEBE and other Public/Private Partners on the establishment and implementation of an alternative energy strategy so St. Maarten can do its part can contribute to mitigating climate change.
He said, "I recognize that the initial cost for transitioning into alternative energy may be high, but a cost-benefit analysis will show that the benefits outweighs the cost."
GEBE is presently repairing the roof that house two of its engines after which the company will put those engines back online.
In the photo Minister of VROMI Christopher Wever looks on as GEBE CEO Kenrick CHittick explains work being done to rebuild one of the damaged engine at the Cay Bay Power Plant.