I was in Puerto Rico on May 15 speaking at the WADE (World Alliance for Decentralized Energy) Caribbean Energy Conference. It was an extremely interesting day for a mainlander like me.
In the U.S., we’re worried about existing and new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their impact on the price and reliability of our power supply as we move to reduce reliance on coal-fired generation. Do we take advantage of increased supplies of shale gas? How do we integrate increasing amounts of renewable energy? And what is the role of nuclear power?
In the Caribbean, the issue of the day is how to reduce reliance on fuel oil as a primary generation fuel. Options include moving to liquefied natural gas (LNG), propane, and renewables. LNG and propane require infrastructure, and that calls for substantial investment. Renewables have to be integrated into island transmission and distribution systems with limited flexibility.
The WADE conference offered an entire panel on the shipping industry, which also burns mostly fuel oil, and is subject to increasingly strict EPA regulations. Electricity prices are higher on island systems given the cost of oil, the need to import fuel resources, and the associated infrastructure.
One thing is clear — the specific issues in the U.S. or Caribbean may be different, but the ultimate dilemma is the same. We need to find the right balance of reliability, cost, and environmental attributes for our energy supplies. And that is public power’s continuing commitment.