Op-Ed: Commemoration of Earth Day

Op-ed by U.S. Charge d’Affaires a.i. Lisa Johnson

On April 22, the United States will join countries around the world in commemorating the 45th anniversary of “Earth Day.”  This day gives us the chance to stop and think about the serious impact that climate change could have on our communities, and to recommit ourselves individually and collectively to be good stewards of the air we breathe and the water we drink.  Rising earth temperatures, caused at least in part by emissions from fossil fuels used for power generation are causing the polar ice caps to melt at an alarming rate, which in turn is leading to rising sea levels.  There are few places on earth where adapting to climate change is more important than in The Bahamas, where fifty percent or more of the annual gross domestic product depends on The Bahamas’ ability to safeguard the stunning natural beauty of its islands.

It’s not enough to just talk about tackling the problem of climate change.  We need concerted effort by all nations, and the United States is doing its part.  President Obama and Secretary Kerry have reaffirmed that global environmental concerns, especially climate change and the plight of the ocean, must be at the top of our agenda.  Through the President’s Climate Change Action Plan, we are well on our way to meeting our commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025.  As part of this effort, President Obama put in place new standards to double the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks on American roads, and has proposed regulations that will curb carbon pollution from power plants.

As Secretary Kerry has noted, smart and sustainable energy policy is good policy when it comes to the environment and mitigating the effects of climate change.  To this end, the United States is becoming smarter about how we develop and manage renewable energy.  Since President Obama took office, the United States has increased production of wind energy more than threefold and increased our solar energy generation more than tenfold.

Use of renewable energy – and the additional resources it brings to a nation – is also smart fiscal policy.  Use of renewable, clean energy can lower energy costs and encourage investment in new business, leading to more jobs, and a brighter future for today’s youth.

We know that The Bahamas shares the commitment to address global climate change, and also understands the part that “clean and green” energy can play.  We applaud the government’s National Energy Policy, which calls for an increased percentage of renewable power generation in The Bahamas’ energy mix, as well as the recent amendments to the Electricity Act allowing the installation of grid-tied, small-scale solar and wind energy generation systems at residences and businesses.  We also are pleased that the government plans to explore renewable energy options on the Family Islands.

Just two weeks ago, on April 9, President Obama met with CARICOM leaders in Jamaica and announced the launch of the Clean Energy Finance Facility for the Caribbean and Central America, a $20 million project to encourage investment in clean energy projects.  In addition, multinational banks are increasingly willing to entertain proposals to fund viable clean energy projects.   President Obama also announced the creation of an Energy Security Task Force composed of experts from throughout the region.  Following on the heels of the Caribbean Energy Security Summit hosted by Vice President Biden in January, the Task Force will enhance efforts by the United States, Caribbean and Central American countries to partner together to identify concrete steps to advance energy sector reform, regional integration, and clean energy development.

Investments in “green” energy make sense for the tourism industry, one of the largest energy users in the Caribbean.  Less than 200 acres of solar panels could provide almost 20% of New Providence’s energy needs even during the hottest parts of the day when the air conditioners at large scale resorts are running at full blast.  To encourage more effective use of energy in the tourism sector, the U.S. Department of Energy, with its Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) are undertaking the Caribbean Hotel Energy Efficiency and Renewables (CHEER) initiative which supports projects to improve energy and water efficiency in the hotel and tourism industry.

Technology exists today to make expanded use of renewable sources of energy economically viable.  The cost of some renewable energy systems is down 75% from just five years ago.  Nevada Solar One, a 64-megawatt solar thermal energy plant near Boulder City, Nevada, is designed to supply power to about 14,000 homes in the Las Vegas area, producing about 134 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year.  This project is cost viable in the United States, where the average cost of electricity runs about ten cents per kilowatt-hour.

Investing in clean, renewable energy resources makes good policy and good fiscal sense.  Working together we can be more careful stewards of this planet that we call home.  Nevada averages about 292 days of sunshine a year, and in 2013 generated about 18 percent of its net electricity from renewable sources, including solar.  In contrast, The Bahamas has about 340 sunny days a year, but currently generates less than one percent of its power from renewable energy.  If it will work there, it will work here.

As President Obama said in Jamaica, Caribbean countries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and we have to act now.  If we work together, we can address these challenges.

Happy Earth Day!