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Don't allow too much experimentation, US energy expert tells regulators

Published:Friday | October 28, 2016 | 10:00 AMJovan Johnson
Dan Potash, the chief of party for the United States Agency for International Development.

Caribbean utility regulators have been warned not to allow "too much" experimentation in energy-efficiency technologies to reduce the likelihood of disastrous consequences.

Dan Potash, the chief of party for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), yesterday told participants at the Organisation Of Caribbean Utility Regulators (OOCUR) conference in St James to allow for pilots but noted that the scale of such efforts must be controlled.

"Investors like to say the Caribbean is a nice place to try things, but that's not attractive. It's not only insulting, but it could end up being like California, with the dotcom bubble, and can have disastrous consequences," he argued during a training course presentation on regulators' leadership challenge in prioritising energy efficiency.

The dotcom bubble stemmed from the Internet investments made by a flurry of Silicon Valley-based companies in California on weak ideas that led to stock failures and the crash of many net-based companies between 1999 and 2001.

According to Potash, energy regulators should enforce "prudent" technology choices and "only allow experimentation" in pilot projects.

Smart street lighting and LED appliances were among those suggested.

The energy expert added that regulators should see themselves having a lead role in steering end users to consume less electricity, especially during peak periods and in utility management. That management, he said, would involve producing more energy, using the most efficiency means of generation, transmission, and distribution.

"Those are the more difficult tasks regulators face," he said.

 

EFFICIENCY LAGGING

 

Potash argued that efficiency has lagged in the Caribbean because of the focus on providing electricity access, brain drain, lack of financing, and technology.

The issue of brain drain surfaced in August when Jamaica's lead power supplier, the Jamaica Public Service, complained that it had been losing its engineers to more lucrative markets.

Potash, however, said issues like those should not stop regulators from "motivating then defending" the integration of energy-efficient means through careful decision making.

The USAID representative admitted, however, that a regulator should not be focused on getting consumers to use the least amount of energy.

"Consumers should be free to use whatever they want," he said in response to a question posed by local economist Dr Damien King.

"The regulator shouldn't be generally saying to people, 'Don't use as much electricity'. That general message can be construed as deprivation. The message shouldn't just be that 'you're using to much'. The message should be, 'Use smarter!'" he explained.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com