Winston Connolly Brings Energy To The House
Winston Connolly left the government benches because it gave him the freedom to bring forward private members motions that he believes best serve the interests of the people. He has never been afraid to raise his head above the parapet of party politics, and bring important issues to the Legislative Assembly that both the main parties have ducked.
His private member’s motion this week calls for the government to establish a National Energy Policy, agree sustainable development goals, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
The energy debate will significantly raise public awareness of this vitally important issue. Mr. Connolly’s motion lists twelve points for government consideration. The most important of these is the introduction and passage into law of a National Energy Policy, with targets for renewable energy,rising from 30% in 2020 to 100% by 2035. (It currently stands at 1%). Other points include requiring the government to set an example by using solar panels to power the Government Administration Building,ensuring that appropriate solar power systems are provided to Caymanian households earning less than $15,000per annum to subsidise energy costs, and providing incentives for the growth of electric vehicle ownership.
Does this matter to ordinary Caymanians? Of course it does. If you have followed Mr. Connolly’s Facebook page you will see the reaction from a large number of Caymanian residents, but most importantly voters. At publishing, there were more than 13,500 visits, 600votes for the changes he is proposing, 300 shares and 300likes. But it matters to everyCaymanian. Migration from fossil fuel to renewable energy will bring lower energy coststo every home and business,and it will build a new industry that creates jobs forCaymanians.
Our electricity usage and prices are among the highest in the region. James Whittaker, President of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association (CREA), says prices can be reduced and costs stabilized through the adoption of solar and other forms of renewable energy.
Whittaker reckons that the nascent renewable industry in Cayman already employs dozens of people, the majority of whom are Caymanians, and contributes millions to the local economy annually. He estimates that this could grow to hundreds of people in the next ten years if government adopts the policies being proposed by Winston Connolly.
And in addition to these very tangible economic and social benefits you can add,contributing to the world-wide measures to mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change; providing national security (not being dependent of foreign oil imports); and improving the health of our people by cutting out exposure to carbon emissions.
How do we know this? Most other countries in the Caribbean, countries like St.Lucia, Honduras, St Vincent, Bahamas and Jamaica have already embraced this change and are enjoying the benefits. (It is strange that Cayman’s policy makers opposing renewable energy say it is only for the rich, but it is poorer counties that have been the quickest to take advantage of cheaper renewable energy) Leading the way in the Caribbean is Aruba. They invested $300 million in renewables in 2011 and are now achieving $85 million per year in savings. Aruba has a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020 and leading global experts like the Rocky Mountain Institute, Carbon War Room and the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) have all confirmed that Aruba’s goals are attainable. By comparison Winston Connolly’s goal of 100% by 2035 can only be described as completely viable.
If it is so good why aren’t we doing it? One of the biggest obstacles is that we have a monopoly energy supplier. At the recent Commonwealth Parliamentarians Conference on sustainable energy in London it was stated that,“Where markets are monopolized by a single energy utility there is little scope to encourage the company to incorporate sustainability into the energy mix.”
The simple fact is that CUC’s primary responsibility is to its shareholders. That is understandable, and they perform very well, producing a sparkling dividend for shareholders of not less than10% every year. Government’s duty is to the people, and these are conflicting interests. It is the poorest people who will benefit most from renewable energy and lower energy costs. Poor people don’t benefit CUC shareholders.
There are inevitably conflicts of interest in this situation, and there are questions that need to be asked.
Do members ofthe Legislative Assembly, or their families, own shares in CUC, and if so how many?
CUC is a major contributor to both UDP and PPM party funds. How much do they contribute, and is that appropriate?
Is the ERA, which advises the government, excessively dependent on technical advice from CUC?What independent sources have they consulted and what track record do those consulting sources have in assisting countries to attain high levels of renewable energy penetration?
As a consequence of the Panama Papers the public are now, more than ever, demanding transparency from their leaders, and these are important questions that need answers.
We have to hope that the motion will be passed on Thursday, and if it is, there are many challenges in migrating from fossil fuel to renewable energy. It is a marathon, not a sprint, and it has to have bi-partisan support. That is why Winston Connolly was such a good choice as chairman of the proposed Government National Energy Policy Review committee, which was announced in July 2015, but has not yet materialized. Since leaving the government Mr. Connolly’s position is unclear. He has notified the Premier that he is willing to serve as Chairman, and do the work necessary to advance a National Energy Policy. His knowledge of the subject amongst MLA’s is unchallenged, and now as an Independent MLA, he is ideally suited to fill that role. It should be confirmed.
It is in the best interests of the country that his motion is passed, but if is not, the debate,and the considerable media interest it will generate, will leave voters clear on where their own MLA stands on this vital topic.With an election only a year away, this is going to become an issue that voters care about, and one in which all MLA’s are going to have to become better informed.
Leaders are elected to lead, and in places like Aruba and Hawaii, which have reaped the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy adoption, it is their political leaders who set the targets and goals, not the technocrats. Let us hope that our leaders can follow their example.
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