The binder of information at our honeymoon cottage, Pink Sand, in North Palmetto Point, Eleuthera Island, Bahamas, reads (verbatim):
"Some do's and Don'ts 1. Please Conserve Water as all our water is from rain that is collected from the gutters and placed in our Cistern that is under the Cottage. 2. Please use A/C only when you are in the Cottage and do not have windows open when using the A/C.
Electric in Eleuthera is 3 times that of electric in the USA. If using the Washer/Dryer, please use only once if you are staying for a week and 2 times if you are staying 2 weeks."
The caretaker, while awaiting our arrival, had turned on the little Toshiba TV perched above the Ponsat Satellite receiver, and its noise overpowered the hum of the wall A/C. The honeymoon was off to a good start when Dave and I, once alone, chimed in unison, let's turn off that A/C and the TV; we came to Paradise to get away from all of that. The cottage is equipped not only with TV, A/C and washer/dryer, but with an on demand electric domestic water heater, a hair dryer and a cell phone. The binder told us where to purchase calling cards for the cell phone. Forgetfulness having its virtues, the laptop -- and access to iTunes -- was at home, and it meant we were limited to the few songs downloaded the night before onto the tiny iPod that my tech-loving husband had just bought me. Electri-tech'd to the gills, I wondered how much '3 times that of USA' meant. If any of the electrical appliances came with their own equivalent 'calling cards' and some kind of watt meter, I would have swapped time on the TV and A/C for additional loads of wash -- clean clothes trumping 400 channels of audio-visual garbage any day.
And I couldn't help but wonder: if electricity costs so much, then where were the solar panels, the small-scale wind turbines and the wave and tidal generators? I searched for them in the land of sea and sun, and saw not a one.
Tweaked that the USA and Paradise are so advanced in some technologies like iPods, cell phones and satellite TV, and so tediously stunted in others, like electricity, I dropped by the office the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) just north of Rock Sound to ask just how much '3 times' is...and churn up a little more information about how BEC services a tropical archipelago. Javan Rolle, a utility manager, was Family Island-gracious to entertain a random visit from a woman in a sundress and tennies, brandishing a business card and asking about residential tariffs. We had a good laugh that nobody at the office knew, readily, the per-kWh cost of electricity on the island: it's $.15 plus a surcharge for the fuel which is 100% diesel generated, bringing the cost to about $.30 per kWh. Coming from Maine, that's about '2 times;' coming from Colorado with its heavy reliance on coal, that's more than '3 times.'
The only customer with solar installed on the entire island, grid-tied, was an outfit called The Island School at Cape Eleuthera on the southern tip of the Island and its affiliate, The Island Institute which was under the auspices of a research and pilot project for grid-tied PV.
Dave and I wended our way out to the Island Institute and met with Andy Danylchuck, PhD, the Director of Research, and Graham Siener, a cleantech solutions consultant for Cape Systems, Ltd., another affiliate of the Institute. We lunched with the staff and students and spoke briefly with Chris Maxey the Founder and Director of the School, the Institute, Cape Systems and the Cape Eleuthera Foundation. The Institute evolved out of a need for additional facilities at the School which already had a bio-wastewater treatment plant, a battery-based Bergey 7.5kW wind turbine, about 17kW of solar panels, and biodiesel collected as waste vegetable oil from cruise ships. The Institute's offices and staff housing are located nearby, across an inlet and over a footbridge in curved- and vaulted-roofed concrete structures. These structures are built to withstand storms and hurricanes, to facilitate rainwater collection and to maximize air cooling. Interior furniture is made of a local, but invasive, hardwood; the floor is covered in recycled carpet tile. A breeze keeps the space, which is light and airy, cool; there is no need for the A/C which is quickly becoming an island status symbol (no different than in other locales like Colorado and coastal Maine that don't need it but for -- so the developers and builders claim -- consumer demand.)
Cape Systems, Ltd. has initiated a campaign called, Freedom 2030: Sustainable Eleuthera, A Model for the Caribbean and Beyond. (The name Eleuthera derives from the Greek word for freedom.) The campaign seeks to raise funds for making Eleuthera a self-sustaining island by 2030, asserting, "this is both an economic and national security issue that will set Eleuthera and The Bahamas as a leader in the inevitable shift away from fossil fuels." They are also underway with a joint venture with publicly-traded Bahamas Waste to establish biodiesel production from locally collected waste cooking oil from hotels, restaurants and cruise lines. The Institute and BEC are working cooperatively through net metering arrangements for solar PV, but there are kinks to iron out; for example, the metering for the Institute's 30kW of solar generation flowing into the grid shows up as a charge to the Institute on their BEC bill.
Support for clean energy from the Prime Minister of The Bahamas appeared in the Bahamian paper this past Friday, and local columnists like Larry Smith, posted on Bahama Pundit, are paying attention to climate change, oil pricing, tourism and alternative energy solutions for the Islands. (See "The Bahamas and the Political Economy of Climate Change" and "Bahamas Could Set Renewable Energy Pace").
In speaking to an international conference of the Caribbean Basin last week, PM Hubert Ingraham is reported in The Nassau Guardian to have pointed out, in reference to climate change and tourism, that the reduction of the import content of goods to service tourism, which is growing, needs to be a major economic policy, and that energy is a major factor requiring adoption of a serious energy policy: in 2001 domestic oil consumption in The Bahamas amounted to some $275 million or 15 percent of total merchandise imports of $1.856 billion; last year, 2006, it accounted for $706 million or 27 percent of total imports of $2.621 billion. Said Ingraham, "A reversal of this trend seems unlikely, and by the end of this year, the cost of domestic consumption of oil may well be at or close to one-third of total merchandise imports. This seems to be a level where alternative sources of energy make sense, and where it is sound economic judgment to revisit the energy efficiency of our lifestyles generally."
Javan of BEC and Graham of the Island Institute say that the Bahamas has lifted the 50% import duty tax on solar panels, and that the 7% stamp tax still applies. The Institute participates in the Chicago Climate Exchange, selling certificates for offsets from energy efficiencies and cleantech which provide another revenue stream. Without rebates or other incentives, however, solar is still out of reach for most.
As in Colorado and Maine, in Eleuthera I couldn't help but wonder, when are the builders and developers getting on board with sustainable building practices? Just a half-hour drive from the Island Institute, Dave and I walked a long stretch of pink sandy beach and broke inland at The Dunes of Eleuthera, a condomimium development midway under construction. Adorable rental cottages in blues and yellows and greens faced the water, wrapped in tropical landscaping. We were curious about these cottages and the new facilities; the developer smoothed through his pitch. Then I asked the question, the one that tends to set off developers and modular home builders: what is the energy rating of these buildings? Why, little lady, it's an Energy Star-rated home, with R-19 walls and R-11 floors! With central air! He said something about poured concrete forms, but the R-19 and the wood foundation posts didn't quite add up to ICFs or SIPs or even concrete block, the traditional island construction material.
Maybe it was the sun and the sand flea bites. Maybe it was knowing that $400K for a huff-and-puff condo was a travesty. Maybe it was knowing this developer from Louisiana intended to make enough money to retire at 55...that set me off: I work on an Energy Star program and those numbers mean nothing. I'd want at least an R-50. I'd want something that can handle a hurricane, and on a tropical island, I don't need air conditioning. The bride wrapped in a red and orange sarong, on the Island of Freedom, had become a Greek Harpie, stealing civility from the conversation.
Departing from the Governor's Harbour airport, I heard that these Energy Star houses were pre-fab and impounded at the docks by the State for failing to meet standards for tropical construction. I can't substantiate the comment, but impounding unsuitable imported building materials is a reasonable response to developers who build with such little regard for homeowner, investor and the planet.
It was a joy to meet with the Island Institute and its affiliate organizations who truly understand what sustainability is all about.
Turning to take in one last gulp of Bahamian heaven at the airport, I saw a billboard: Keep Central Eleuthera Clean, Green & Pristine...It Starts with YOU!
Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, is a consultant in cleantech market management and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.