As I indicated previously, Covid-19 has merely hastened the future that was already coming. It has certainly brought forward the urgency of renewable energy.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that public support for the environmental movement has soared, along with political backing in many countries. Investments are increasingly flowing towards green companies. The S&P Global Clean Energy index, covering 30 big utilities and green-technology stocks, is now up 37 per cent over two years, including dividends. This year, clean-energy investment will account for half of total investment in the entire energy sector.
Except Trinidad and Tobago, nations have long been on the move. Almost 190 countries increasingly produce renewable energy. Norway, Iceland, Albania, Paraguay and Costa Rica already run only on renewables. Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Britain, Denmark, Nicaragua and Uruguay are heading there. In Barbados while solar panels sprout from buildings everywhere, the government has developed the National Energy Policy (BNEP) 2019-2030 “designed to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy”. Jamaica has been making headway, renewables already providing 20 per cent of power supply heading for 30 per cent in this decade.
But in Trinidad and Tobago, an intellectually stagnant Rowley administration persisted with “Our oil, our gas, our future”, scandalously wasting five precious years during which time I persistently pointed to the global energy revolution and called for a renewables industry in Trinidad and Tobago. While close to 12 million jobs were being created by renewables worldwide, not a single one happened in Trinidad and Tobago. Shame!
And renewables could have saved our petrochemical industry. I repeatedly told this administration that wind and solar energy could almost completely meet the country’s electricity needs, thereby preserving more gas for our petrochemical plants at Point Lisas. Prof Ken Julien, one of the architects of the industrial estate, has said it was never the intention to export our natural gas as LNG but to use it for petrochemical production, maximising benefit, including economic transformation.
Indeed, the Government’s receipts for LNG are the least behind ammonia and methanol. Yet we allocated 50 per cent of our natural gas to LNG, causing curtailed gas supply to Point Lisas since 2014, threatening its future. Eight plants have already closed down, bringing closer the scrap iron destiny I forecasted for the industrial estate three years ago, the situation now extremely aggravated by the new gas price negotiated by Dr Rowley. Renewable energy would have prevented this disaster.
And to wake up this Government, I kept pointing to Big Oil already spending billions on renewables, powering millions of homes in Europe and North America. I asked, “Why do we speak to the multinationals only of oil and gas and waste the wind blowing abundantly offshore?” It seems my exhortations were finally heard.
For after five wasted years, the Government has been forced by Covid-19 to think of renewable energy projects. Apparently a consortium led by Shell and BP has submitted successful proposals to generate 92.2 MW of electricity from solar at Couva; and 20 MW of electricity from solar sources at Trincity. Another utility scale project is apparently in the works, a waste-to-energy facility, to produce up to 10MW of electricity at the Beetham Landfill. As the sun sets on his administration, Keith Rowley is looking for a legacy.
But in a rather ad hoc manner. Do we have a renewable energy policy for Trinidad and Tobago? We have heard nothing yet of regulatory arrangements, investment incentives, targets, storage, the role of the national grid etc.
Meanwhile, there are other emerging critical global issues. Protectionism is now a growing threat. Governments, including previous advocates of global trade, are using the crisis to erect barriers to commerce and bring manufacturing home. Nativist nationalists see the opportunity to advance their cause. We could be witnessing a rethinking on globalisation. Over 80 per cent of respondents to a study in France felt the main lesson of the crisis is that “Europe should repatriate as much as possible of the production value chains that had been outsourced to Asia”, echoing the thinking of the European Commission itself which finds the EU too dependent on foreign suppliers.
The global supply chain could be under threat. This is regrettable, because, based on the international division of labour, it has produced global economic efficiency for the benefit of all nations. Smaller nations benefited especially from reasonable costs. Will imports become more expensive from regional and/or local supply chains?
And most importantly, are those now preparing for office in Trinidad and Tobago discerning the emerging new realities? For example, the IMF notes the services industry has been more severely impacted than manufacturing, a change from previous crises. Spending on services has fallen sharply. “We therefore could see the rare service-sector recession.” Is this a harbinger of fundamental change in consumer behaviour? Has Covid made people wary of spending?
Whoever comes to office after the coming election must be on top of all issues and not repeat the disaster of the last five years when people came to power totally unprepared for the monumental tasks before them and ended up inflicting irretrievable damage to the nation’s future.
This must not happen. Never again!