Representatives from the member countries of SICA, the Central American Integration System, are in San Pedro tonight after an entire day of meetings. As we've told you, Belize is currently the protem President of SICA, and will maintain control for the next 5 months.
That's why a team from the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology and Public Utilities were the hosts today of a technical meeting for government professionals from the energy sector in all the member countries. On the agenda, along with renewable energy, was the topic of designing social programs to assist poorer sections of the population to get access to affordable electricity.
Energy Minister Joy Grant was the Keynote Speaker and after her presentation, she spoke with the media about the significance of these discussions for Belize. She told us that there is the plan have access to power in every community throughout the country, as part of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative currently endorsed by the region:
Hon. Joy Grant
"This meeting is to address the common problems of energy and opportunities in the region, for example, energy efficiency is a huge topic. We need to look at it very closely, but also at the same time rural electrification; getting electricity to the villages that presently don't have it is a priority. When we look forward and we look to solving the problems, as I said earlier we could look at it at a national level and we are and we are coming up with solutions, but it's always best in circumstances such as these to look at it from a regional perspective. We signed on to the UN declaration in energy for all and we committed that by 2030 we want all our people to have access to electricity. It sounds like a very difficult goal to achieve, but we are very sure that we can do it. We have put in place certain policies and programs that will get us there. For example, working with the IDB who will be coming down shortly to look at the villages where there is no electricity and to determine whether we could use renewables. For example, we could use solar or sometimes maybe hydro and once that study is completed the funding will then be in place for us to get electrification into these villages."
"Are these relevant to other SICA member countries about what they are doing in their countries?"
Hon. Joy Grant
"Yes, Belize is less in that we have a smaller population, so we could say that we are confident that we will achieve this goal. In the other countries yes they are looking at renewable energy and trying also to have access for all and in many of these countries I think the challenges are even greater, but if we could do something and do it right in Belize then this could be the pilot for what the other countries could then look at and maybe institute or do some of these same projects the same way in their countries."
"Would you be able to tell us what amount of the population of Belize have access to energy at this point?"
Hon. Joy Grant
"I can't tell you the percentage, but we have about almost 20 villages that are without. You know 20 villages are of different size. Some of them are really small and the reason they are not connected to the grid is because of the size. It becomes then uneconomic for electricity company to run the lines in there because they will never be able to get back their cost, that's why the ministry has taken the view that we have to look at renewable energy to get energy there."
By the Government's, count there are 20 villages in Belize which are currently without electricity. According to Grant, the technical analysis says that it is not economically feasible to get electricity to them because of the start-up costs to Belize Electricity Limited to run power lines to them. In these communities, plans are being designed to provide power by renewable sources of energy.
The Energy Technical Meeting Continues tomorrow, but while that it is taking place, another arm of SICA, called the Central-American Agricultural Council, will be collaborating with the Ministry of Agriculture to host another technical meeting to discuss Agricultural Health & Food Safety. Natural Resources and Agricultural Minister Gaspar Vega will deliver the keynote address at that meeting tomorrow.
RFP Process Still GoingEarlier, we told you about the SICA meeting in San Pedro in which the social programs were discussed to provide energy to 100% of the country's population. Well during that discussion, Keynote speaker, Joy Grant, informed the gathering about Belize's request for power initiative.
As we told you, the government and your electricity company are trying to increase the capacity of the national grid by introducing an additional 75 megawatts of energy. The 20 bids were officially tendered 3 months ago, and today, Grant discussed with us how far the process has gone in reviewing the programs which will be selected to produce that additional power.
Here's what she told us:
Hon. Joy Grant
"That started on May 29th and we got 57 applications, much more than we thought. We are happy about that because what that shows is investor confidence in the country and come in and say they would like to do a project. We did the first review and we brought that down to about half and then we did a second review that we had the socio-economic benefits from all of these that were on the short list and also the financial analysis because that's very important. If we are going to get new sources of energy it must be at a competitive price if not it does not make any sense, so we are at the point where all these analysis has been done. There is a small group of 3 with representatives from BEL, the Public Utilities Commission and the ministry working very hard on this and in the next 10 days the short list will be announce to the Belizean public."
"At that stage we go into negotiations because people have said well we have the money and we can do this. WE have to make sure that that is in fact so and these negotiations will take a month or so, and at that time we will be ready to look at when we could start to implement these projects that would have been chosen."
But as we reported regularly in our newscast, your electricity bill fluctuates. There are usually a group of factors which contribute to that variation, but one of them is the price of oil. As we've told you, the Mexican company, Commission Federal de Electricidad (CFE) uses oil to generate electricity, which it then sells to Belize.
Energy Minister Joy Grant told us that there are discussions to try to reduce the country's electricity dependency on the neighbours to the north:
Hon. Joy Grant
"On the agenda today is energy to SICA which has always been one of the major initiatives of this ministry. Seeing if we could come to the day very soon where we are no longer buying and dependent on getting energy but selling. But that does entail setting up the infrastructure - the lines because you have to have lines that will carry the load and that will mean significant investments. However, we are working both with the World Bank and IDB at looking at whether Belize could become a member, we are not and these discussions are quite advance but to your specific question of buying energy from Mexico, I said this morning that 57% of our electricity is from renewable sources. Now that is actually more than most countries especially in the Caribbean. If we could increase that and while keeping the cost down, we will be able to decrease our dependence on Mexican energy. Now that will not happen in the very short term. We are lucky that we always have this arrangement with the Mexicans. We are glad that the Mexican government is working with our government in this way because Belizeans don't have to worry if we have a very dry year and we don't have the hydroelectricity, we can always get from Mexico. But with time we would like to use bio-fuels which gives us energy on a more sustainable manner than hydro to bridge the gap and so that most of our energy will be coming from renewables and will bring down the cost and will make us more energy sustainable."