Tue | Aug 22, 2017

We must chart a course for energy in Jamaica

Published:Thursday | February 18, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Kenneth 'Kenny' Benjamin, executive chairman, Guardsman Group.

The following are excerpts from a presentation by Kenny Benjamin, chairman of the Guardsman Group, at a recent energy summit held at The Jamaica Pegasus.

The Guardsman Group is proud to have partnered in the hosting of this important conference. This conference is timely as we seek to chart a course for the future of energy in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

Our business at Guardsman is security, and as international events so clearly display - sustainable, affordable and reliable energy supply is a critical part of every nation's security.

It must be clear to us all that as populations grow globally, new and different ways must be found to meet the world's ever-increasing demand for energy.

We, as world citizens, must find ways to meet our growing energy needs in ways that do not threaten the security of nations. If we fail to act, this will guarantee a future cursed with wars for ever-depleting natural resources.

In Jamaica, we are all too familiar with trying to find more reliable and affordable sources of green energy. Much work has been done by the Government. We must commend this work. But the time has come for us to insist on effective implementation of agreed projects. There is no time for unnecessary delays.

The United Nations General Assembly declared the period 2014 to 2024 the 'International Decade of Sustainable Energy for All'. Let us heed this call to action. To do this, we must as a country commit to doing whatever is necessary, including making bold policy shifts, rooted in the knowledge that finding and investing in 'new energy' makes sound economic and social sense.

We can be encouraged by the fact that across the world, governments which have actively implemented 'new energy' programmes are already being rewarded with high rates of return from lower energy costs; reduced health expenses due to better living conditions; increased productivity for businesses; and improved access to energy.

Our target should be to seek to achieve those same benefits. We can get there, if we prepare a reliable road map and stick to it.

 

GREEN ENERGY

 

We must, therefore, be committed as a country at every level, and among all stakeholders.

A key challenge in many countries is the lack of financial policies and/or possible incentives by governments as it relates to green energy. Let us not fall victim to this trap but instead rise above our neighbours and be the leaders and front-runners in the energy revolution in the Caribbean.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, in its report 'Best Policy Practices for Promoting Energy Efficiency', notes that investment in energy efficiency has the potential to increase tax revenue, provide higher returns on investment, and lower the costs of unemployment and social welfare.

Energy efficiency strategies, as noted earlier, have resulted in measurable improvements in the health of populations. The positive health outcomes are strongest among the population's most vulnerable groups - children and the elderly. As chairman of the Bustamante Hospital for Children, I am only too familiar with scores of children coming in with respiratory illnesses. We must invest to change this.

Energy efficiency can also be a strategic investment for businesses leading to improved competitiveness, reduced operating and maintenance costs and improved working conditions. We at Guardsman can attest to this as we are committed and have embarked on the implementation of 'new energy'. We are already being rewarded with higher rates of return from our energy costs.

We in Jamaica are at a proverbial crossroads where energy is concerned. Falling oil prices have created for many consumers and businesses a bit of breathing space. We must, however, resist the urge to seek comfort in this space.

We cannot afford to be lulled into complacency but must instead view this moment in time as an opportunity to craft a new way forward.

We must not leave this task to our children and grandchildren. It is our duty now to be bold and make the decisions necessary to ensure that we move towards a new relationship with energy.

History will judge us for the efforts we make now, at conferences such as the one at which we are gathered today.

Let us now write in history our commitment to creating a better tomorrow.