Asot Michael’s Opening Remarks on 3MW Solar

His Excellency The Governor General Sir Rodney;
Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance & Corporate Governance of Antigua and Barbuda;
Senator The Hon. Alincia Williams Grant President of The Senate;
Hon. Sir Gerald Watt, Speaker of The House of Representatives and Mrs. Watt;
Hon. Robin Yearwood, Minister Of Public Utilities, Civil Aviation and Transportation;
Other Members of Parliament;
Members of The Diplomatic Corps,
Hon. Ian Liburd, Minister of Public Infrastructure, Post, Urban Development and Transport of St. Kitts and Nevis;
Mr. Owen Lewis, Energy Director of Montserrat;
Mr. Peter Virdee, Chairman PV Energy;

The Most Reverend Kenneth Richards, Bishop of St. John’s-Basseterre,  Other Distinguished Guests, Esteemed members of the media  Ladies and Gentlemen… good afternoon and warm greetings to all… Today marks a particularly joyful day in the history of Antigua and Barbuda, as we meet for the official commissioning of a 3mw solar photovoltaic project at the southern boundary of the VC Bird International Airport.

It would be remiss of me not to begin by first outlining the fact that this Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party administration—for which I have the distinct honour of serving as Minister responsible for Energy, in this Gaston Browne Cabinet—is committed to reduce Antigua and Barbuda’s carbon foot print; it is real, and it is necessary.

This, ladies and gentlemen, in the context of Antigua and Barbuda’s pledge to be a regional and global leader, takes into consideration our climate change commitments.

Notwithstanding that little was achieved in renewable energy prior to June 2014—either through slothfulness or lack of imagination—by the previous administration, the Gaston Browne administration gave the assurance that our reliance on fossil fuels will be greatly reduced. We said in our 2014 Manifesto that ‘our energy strategy is to reduce dependence on expensive fossil fuel and introduce renewable energy generation.’

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: This commissioning ceremony represents yet another fulfillment of the pledges given by the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party. In this case, it isthe development and implementation of a comprehensive program of renewable energy development for our beloved country.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: This opening marks a promise made, and a promise kept.

This thrust towards renewable energy development is particularly significant, as it provides huge benefits in a number of areas for all of our people. First and foremost, this solar energy initiative represents a successful attempt to harness the country’s abundant, available, renewable resource. In this case, the remarkable solar energy which streams down upon us is a blessing. Our bright sun attracts tourists to our country and gives us a crucial supply of energy when converted. My Government can then strategize to bring significant reductions in the foreign exchange spent on oil and gas, and to reduce the cost of energy to all consumers. At the same time, this shift to renewable energy will result in a more pristine environment in which our people and visitors will thrive. The manifestation of the objectives set by the Gaston Browne administration is no more evident than in what we are seeing today. The commissioning of this new technology project, providing energy for the V.C. International Airport, is a step into the future.

As the country moves towards celebrating three-and-one-half decades of independence, this successful harnessing of an abundant resource for national development takes us one step further along the path to First World status. This is precisely the mandate that the electorate in Antigua and Barbuda gave us; and, it is the objective for which V.C. Bird, the Father of the Nation, and the other trade union pioneers fought.

Today’s official commissioning of this 3-Megawatt solar power facility is, in fact, only the first phase of a larger 10-Megawatt project which, when complete, will be the largest of its kind in the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean. This crucial project provides an important template for future renewable energy development in Antigua and Barbuda and further afield.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: Already, work is far advanced in preparation for the installation of 2Megawatts of solar rooftop applications at various government sites across Antigua. This is being followed by the establishment of a 4-Megawatt site at Lavington’s near Bethesda where work has already begun on surveying and completing the detailed technical designs. In Barbuda, technical visits have identified a potential site for the installation of a 1-Megawatt plant. It is expected that work on the Barbuda project will get underway in the second half of 2016.

On Page 41 of the ABLP Manifesto ‘The Peoples Rescue Plan’, the ABLP asserted that the energy strategy is to reduce dependence on expensive fossil fuel, that it would introduce renewable-energy generation, such as solar power, and that taxes would be significantly reduced on imported electric or hybrid motor vehicles. The target given in the Manifesto is to reach 20% of non-fossil-fuel capacity by 2018.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests: The commissioning of this solar plant today means that the 20-month old government led by the Honourable Gaston Browne is well on our way to keeping this promise.

This 3 megawatt plant represents 6% of the peak capacity for Antigua; and, with phase 2 planned for the end of this year, a further 7.5% will be commissioned with a further 7 Megawatts coming on-stream during 2017. We are on track to realize another promise kept!

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: The availability of energy is an essential component of any modern society and economy. In Antigua and Barbuda we consumed approximately 1.45 million barrels of petroleum products in 2015 and are likely to exceed that amount in 2016. As economic activity increases—driven by policies intended to achieve full employment, to raise the standard of living of our people, and to transform Antigua and Barbuda into an economic powerhouse—expect more of the same. I am informed that the 10MW of solar energy can replace about 800,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil, thereby allowing us to save millions of dollars in foreign exchange. Those US dollars can then be used for other purposes.

While world oil prices may be low at this time, it will not last forever. Oil prices remain vulnerable to sudden disruptions of supply, from a number of sources around the world. When that happens, the price of oil can shoot upwards. The Eastern Caribbean is, thankfully, a zone of peace; we are also very conscious of the responsibility to protect our environment, and to safeguard this Little Bit of Paradise that the Almighty gave to us. To utilize our own abundant solar energy resource, available 11 hours each day, is to do God’s will.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: Antigua and Barbuda’s shift towards greater utilization of its renewable energy resources means that we are also part of a wider global effort, playing a leadership role, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The greatest amount of those gases, coming from energy production, are generated from burning fossil fuels. We have not just talked; we have walked the walk, we have implemented, as evidenced by this treasured project.

Indeed, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we are all increasingly aware of the changes taking place in our climate. Here, in Antigua and Barbuda, we recorded our driest year on record, in 2015. Last year was the third successive year of below average rainfall. We have seen on television or read of the massive swings in temperature that have taken place in North America, over the past few weeks. In fact, the daily news provides continuous coverage of the devastating impacts of a rapidly changing climate across the globe.

Ambassador Diann Black Layne keeps reminding us that while the quantum of greenhouse gases emitted by Antigua and Barbuda is tiny, small islandstates will be among the worst affected. We are especially fearful of sea-level rise, the strength and severity of storms, and changing rainfall patterns that bring much uncertainty for our farmers and, by extension, our food security.

It is therefore incumbent on us to take positive, innovative, and proactive measures to reduce our contribution to the global output of greenhouse gases. It is imperative that we find the necessary means of utilizing the available technologies now emerging for harnessing energy from the sun, wind, geothermal and ocean-thermal energy sources.
In fact, the rapid development of technology has been a tremendous spur to renewable energy development in recent years. Advances in information technology, as well as new materials’ development, have meant that the efficiency of renewable energy has become increasingly competitive. These advances in renewable energy technologies have driven down the cost of renewable energy, and made solar and wind power in particular increasingly competitive with traditional fossil-fuel energy.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: My government has taken a wide ranging approach to renewable energy development. One of the first pieces of legislation introduced by our administration was the Renewable Energy Act (2015), which liberalized the generation of renewable energy by removing the monopoly for electricitygeneration from APUA.

Regulations for the Act are currently being prepared. This has built on the platform for interconnection established by APUA and fostered the widespread adoption of renewable energy. So it is estimated that Antigua and Barbuda, now has renewable energy, primarily solar, distributed across private households and business places in Antigua and Barbuda. We expect growth to continue, especially at the household level. Many of the major development projects in the tourism sector that my Ministry expects to see coming on stream over the next year, will also have solar energy systems installed. Again I say: Promise made, Promise kept.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: Recognizing the high initial costs associated with these technologies, the ABLP administration has also continued to facilitate importation of renewable energy and energy efficiency products through the waiver of import duties and other charges. These are incentives specifically intended to assist the nation’s people and businesses in making energy more affordable to all.

The administration is also enhancing its institutional capacity for innovative energy policy, by strengthening the human resource capability within the Ministry with responsibility for Energy. At the same time, the Ministry continues to work closely with APUA on matters relating to electricity, and to consult with other stakeholders in the energy sector including the Environment Division.

The cooperation with APUA has been particularly apparent in the case of this project, which is in every sense a joint project between the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy and the APUA.

In that regard, special mention and recognition must be extended to Mr. Esworth Martin, Mr. Andre Matthias, Mr. Winston Whyte and the other technicians and staff at APUA who have made today possible. During the construction phase of this project, the APUA management team has been consistent in its determination to ensure that the quality of electricity services is enhanced. The team collectively displayed a level of technical knowledge and capability that augurs well for the development of renewable energy in Antigua and Barbuda. Let us applaud them.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: One of the primary goals of this project has been to facilitate the transfer of skills in this rapidly developing field to Antiguans and Barbudans and, particularly, our youth. In that regard local contractors have been engaged in various capacities to date. This transfer of skills has varied from actual installation of panels, and the electrical interface with APUA. At the management level, a team of technicians from APUA and the Ministry visited a number of sites in Europe, last year, where they were able to obtain a closer insight into the technology, including visits to working sites as well as to manufacturers.

Ladies and Gentlemen: I am particularly pleased of our partnership with our primary contractor, PV Energy, led by my dear friend Mr. Peter Virdee. This youthful and dynamic UK-born and bred businessman has over 21 years of experience in the property development sector. He is the founding partner of B&S Property and has built a £4 billion Pound Sterling property-empire with assets in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa. With offices in London’s Mayfair District, B&S Property Ltd is currently involved in commercial property development in the UK and Europe.

Some notable transaction successes in their portfolio of achievements include The Wankdorf Center in Bern Switzerland, and Shubette, Dexion and Howarine.
In addition to his interests in various manufacturing and commodity sectors, Peter has also established PV Energy as a UK-based renewable energy company providing solar energy services in a number of developed and emerging markets.
Through the setting-up and establishment of The Virdee Foundation, Peter has also made an invaluable contribution to a wide range of philanthropic causes covering both major and minor charities.

The 10Megawatt project has been PV Energy’s first foray into the Caribbean. We look forward to collaborating with PV Energy in positioning Antigua and Barbuda as a centre for distribution and supply of renewable energy throughout the region.
Peter Virdee is also the main investor behind a major tourism project slated for Barbuda at Gravenor Bay. That project, along with the Paradise Found project, will catapult Barbuda, and indeed the entire nation of Antigua and Barbuda, into the major league of new resorts being built across the region.

The Gravenor Bay project is in fact only one of the fruits of the efforts being spearheaded by Prime Minster Gaston Browne and the Ministry of Tourism to further develop our vital tourism sector. The benefits of these initiatives are already being realized with steadily increasing airlift and stay-over arrivals, a boom in cruise ship arrivals, enhancement of distressed hotel properties, and greater investment in tourism plant and product. All this, as we seek to restore Antigua and Barbuda’s place as a premier Caribbean tourism destination and repair the neglect of the sector under the past administration.

On the PV Energy side we have also had the benefit of working with a team of dedicated professionals led on the ground by Ms. Shpresa Azemi and with technical and policy guidance and support from Messers D.T. Thomas Beindorf, and George Kitoudis. This team of professionals has ensured that the project maintained all of the technical requirements and stipulations for efficient and cost effective solar energy in Antigua and Barbuda.

This commitment to quality and efficiency has meant that this site, comprising over 12,000 panels, and requiring precise engineering inputs, took less than ninety days to complete its installation – a notable achievement in itself and indicative of the hard work and effort of all the partner agencies involved.

As Mr. Virdee has indicated, the PV Energy team has utilized only top tier technology throughout the project. We are assured by the various manufacturers’ warranties, that we are utilizing top-of-the-line technologies suited to the peculiar climatic and technical requirements of Antigua and Barbuda. We express our appreciation to PV Energy for partnering with us in this innovative and transformational venture and applaud their commitment to the highest levels of engineering proficiency.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: An engineering miracle was witnessed when an electric generator was turned on for the first time in Antigua in 1904, at the Antigua Sugar Factory. At that time, more than one century ago, the Antigua Syndicates Estates was the biggest business, and the electricity generated was intended to make the factory function at night. No-one counted the weight of the emissions, or even gave thought to the cost of the fuel that was imported in drums. Electricity was such a miracle, at the turn of the last century just ended. Forty-four years following the miracle at the Sugar Factory, in 1948, the Antigua Electricity Company, operating from Lower St. Mary’s Street, was

purchased by the Government in order to expand the product to households outside of commercial St. John’s.

2016 is the next step towards a continuing revolution which the 1939ers began. Our country has joined with the rest of the world to give life to a new civilization. It is a civilization based on more rational thinking, smarter scientists, better financiers, and changing global circumstances. Antigua and Barbuda is on the cutting edge.

I look forward to strengthening the partnership with all, as we seek to move Antigua and Barbuda towards this new dawn of renewable energy for our country.

This government under the astute leadership of the Honourable Prime Minister, and with me as your Minster and humble servant, remain committed to protecting our people, safeguarding our environment, reducing the cost of energy, and placing Antigua and Barbuda on the cutting edge far out-front of its competitors.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: We shall remain innovative and proactive in our search to make Antigua and Barbuda a better, cleaner place for all of us to prosper and to enjoy. Thank you and may God bless us all.