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Dominica’s Minister of Energy, Vince Henderson and his Vincentian counterpart, Benarva Browne, speaking to the media in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (CMC photo).
Dominica’s Minister of Energy, Vince Henderson and his Vincentian counterpart, Benarva Browne, speaking to the media in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (CMC photo).

By Kenton X. Chance

ABU DHABI (CMC) — CARICOM countries on Tuesday said small island developing states (SIDS) “appropriate” renewable energy technologies remain a challenge even as these countries accelerate the transition to renewable energy as part of their sustainable development and a response to climate change.

Dominica’s Minister of Energy, Vince Henderson said that SIDS, such as those in the Caribbean, have to balance competing interests on small landmass, including agriculture and food security, housing, tourism and energy security.

In addition, Henderson, who is also the minister of foreign affairs, international business and trade, told a news conference here that space remains a challenge “… because you can only have so many solar panels, you can only install, you know, so many wind turbines. 

“And this is  part of the reality of small island states that we need to fully accept,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the 14th Session of the two-day International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Assembly which ends on Thursday.

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Henderson was joined at a news conference by his Grenadian and Vincentian colleagues, Kerryne Z. James and Benarva Browne, as well as Malta’s Minister for the Environment, Energy and Regeneration of the grand harbour, Miriam Dalli.

The SIDS ministers fielded questions from the media after the “SIDS Ministerial – Charting a Resilient and Sustainable Energy Future for SIDS”, during which Barbados’ Energy Minister, Senator Lisa Cummins urged SIDS to lead globally and use their collective voices to champion the energy transition and climate action.

Henderson thanked IRENA for its “constant engagement” with SIDS, especially over the last decade, but called on the international organisation “to focus more attention on SIDS-appropriate technology, in not just words, but in action.

“And we have to start utilising and harnessing the huge potential that our oceans provide. We are large-ocean states,” he said, adding that SIDS have made the call at their conference in Samoa in 2014 and will repeat it in Antigua next month.

“But we need to see some real action in our efforts to seem to harness that huge potential. We talk about the blue economy. This is the blue economy. This is the basis of the blue economy,” said Henderson, whose country is forging ahead with geothermal energy development.

“We have fisheries but we have energy as a source of power that can help to propel SIDS,” he said, referring to ocean technology.

“Because if we’re talking about the transition to renewable energy, we must never forget that it must be a just transition. And for some reason, in the conversation today, we overlooked that I think we were more anxious just to highlight some of our challenges,” he said, referring to the speeches during the ministerial.

Henderson said SIDS need to remind the major polluters in the world that are responsible for a warming of  the climate “that they, too, have an obligation, they have a moral obligation.

“And I think soon it may become a legal obligation to ensure that we can make a transition that is just. And when I say just, it means that our people will not be burdened by our transition to renewable energy. But in fact, they will have a benefit.

“And I’m talking about paying their bills. So reducing the cost of electricity.”

Henderson said that about 10 years ago, IRENA joined  SIDS DOCK – a United Nations-recognised group of 32 small islands and low-lying developing states across the globe – in Cabo Verde “when we were pushing smart grids

“And today, we’re still struggling with grids that can at least accept intermittent sources of renewable energy. So even while we are pushing wind and solar, we are still not getting the grids ready to accept wind and solar.”

SIDS DOCK, whose secretariat is located in Belize, is so named because it is designed as a “DOCKing station” to connect the energy sector in SIDS with the global markets for finance and sustainable energy technologies.

Henderson said that Dominica is “blessed with tremendous geothermal potential” and has signed its contract to build a 10 megawatt geothermal power plant.

“We have the capacity to produce 10 times more than what we need for domestic use. And this is why we have the ambitious target of moving to the production of green hydrogen and ammonia, as fuel sources that we can also be able to export.”

He said that Dominica is also promoting, along with Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Kitts and Nevis “to interconnect our islands so that we can make better use of the huge sources of geothermal energy that we have”.

Kerryne Z. James
Grenada’s Minister of Energy Kerryne Z. James speaking to the media in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (CMC photo.)

The Dominica minister said it so happens that St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and Dominica all have geothermal potential.

“And we are all moving forward to develop our resource so we can provide power for the entire Caribbean without putting one solar panel — but I still like solar panels. But I think we really need to rethink how we do that transition. And that is for me the key points that I wish to share today is really rethinking how we transition. I don’t think we are on the right path.”

Henderson said that he has seen progress over the last 10 years, with “a lot of kilowatts placed in countries, all of them, not necessarily on the grid.

“But we have seen the installations, we have seen the training and the capacity-building, the financing instruments that have been created. But it still will get to a point where we won’t have enough space to put solar panels in order to power our daily lives, and to have energy for development.”

Meanwhile, James, who is also Minister for Climate Resilience, the Environment and Renewable Energy in St. George’s said Grenada’s peak demand is 33 megawatts, which might seem like “a little bit…

“But to put into perspective as to the energy transition for us, we have looked at quite a number of different projects, we have looked at policy framework that would enable us to create the environment that would attract investors to come to our islands to develop our RE (renewable energy) potentials.”

She said IRENA is key to creating the environment for SIDS to collaborate more.

“I think if we take a collaborative approach, pool procurement, it will assist us in some of the challenges that we had,” she said, noting Malta’s intervention during the ministerial that as regard energy, the experiences of small island states, regardless of their developmental status is similar.

She echoed Henderson’s call for “SIDS-appropriate” renewable energy technologies.

“Most times, when we get any opportunity to invest or to seek opportunities for RE for our islands, they are projected on us. It’s not we going to them with our  proposals, right.

“And I say them in terms of organisations that have the financial capabilities to help us on our RE journey,” James said.

She said that SIDS are actually large ocean states though they are often framed as small island states.

“And so we have to, I need to reiterate that, we have to look into seeing how we can capitalise on what we do have to ensure that climate change doesn’t impact us as it has done over the years.”

James said SIDS also have to look at “legislating some of the ambitious targets that we have set out because without the proper checks and balances to hold the big emitters accountable, where are we going in the whole energy transition?”

On the issue of just transition, James said that as politicians, energy ministers have to ensure that within their countries, “the just transition doesn’t leave out those persons at the grassroots.

“So those persons who can’t necessarily invest in solar PV because their house is not even appropriate to accommodate  the panels.

“That, too, is a part of the just transition that I don’t think that we honestly  look into as small island developing states.”

The Grenadian minister noted that most SIDS have concessions on solar PV modules and electric and hybrid vehicles.

“But the question that we have to ask ourselves is how much of our people at the local level can actually capitalise on these things? So we have our responsibility internationally, but as politicians, as policymakers, we do have a responsibility to ensure that the just transition does not leave out anybody within our sectors and within our societies.”

Browne said that the speaker at the ministerial “heard basically the same story from the different islands.

“And that shows the commonality between us and why having discussions like this is important,” she said, supporting also Henderson’s calls for SIDS-appropriate technologies.

“I think that is a very, very timely intervention, that’s a very necessary intervention,” said Browne, who is also the minister of urban development, seaport, Grenadines affairs and local government in her homeland.

She told reporters that Antigua also has to deal with the competition between land usage.

“So balancing those are all things that I would like to speak about. I would also like to talk about the building of capacity, and learning from each other that this conference will encourage. We all have different experiences and it allows for  the technical people to sit as well as we would sit down have discussions or technical staff are learning from each other,” Browne said.

On Wednesday, IRENA  Director-General, Francesco La Camera, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that as it relates to SIDS, one of the main questions is the size of the market, which “sometimes does not now provide for the business case for new grants.

“But we can work together, we  are working together and Dominica can showcase the example that we have been able, working together, to finalise the financial close, for the geothermal plant in Dominica”.

La Camera said this is something that was “impossible to think” five years ago or even six months ago.

“So putting different actors together — Israel’s technology, Iceland’s knowledge, support from the World Bank, political support to have this project, at the end of it, being able to have geothermal for Dominica,” he told CMC, adding that IRENA is also starting to work with St. Kitts-Nevis.

“In this case, for small islands that have geothermal potential. Other areas have other opportunity but we think that for the small islands, we have to look not only on concessional loans for funding but we also to need a share of grants to be palatable for investment,” the IRENA chief told CMC.