viernes, 11 de septiembre de 2015

The Energy Future of Las Terrenas

For more than 20 years electrical power in Las Terrenas was provided by a monopoly composed of the distributor Luz y Fuerza and the generating company Generadora de Samana.  The monopoly was eliminated when the interconnection to the national grid was accomplished in early August and, recently, the National Energy Commission (CNE) denied the application for a generating concession to Generadora de Samana.  Luz y Fuerza continues as the distributing company but regulated by the National Electrical Superintendence (SIE) which establishes rates and regulates services.  After the current 80-day transition period, the final electrical rates for Las Terrenas will be anywhere from one third to one half of what they were 40 days ago.

The end of the monopoly was the result of persistent efforts by community leaders and organizations.  The struggle continues as they now have requested to the SIE to look into a variety of service-related ítems, from costs of meters, costs of contracts, abusive practices and poor client services overall.  Community leaders understand that some of the company´s practices during their long 23-years monopoly have been abusive and contradict current electrical laws.

Many factors are worth analyzing, but still the most important one in my view has more to do with the long-term future electrical service in Las Terrenas.

We already know that in 2-3 years the entire province will be connected to the national grid and that the intended loop will come through Las Terrenas with upper-level power and potency.  The costs of a kilo would be even lower and subject to national levels and rates.  According to the SIE, the lines that connect Las Terrenas to the national grid through the municipality of Sanchez was transitory as President Danilo ordered a remedy to the situation after the strikes of last November, but the government had already designed the provincial high tension loop.  It couldn´t be done this year because the necessary materials take time as they are built to specs and need to be ordered and shipped from overseas.

Though the connection to the national grid has its advantages, lower rates being one of them, and even when the elimination of the concession to the local distribution company continues to be a desirable option, I still feel that it would be short-sighted to focus only on those two factors when exploring what our energy future should look like, locally and in the province.  Samana province and Las Terrenas in particular have special natural and economic characteristics that deserve additional consideration.  Taking these into account would secure long-term beneficial results and even the creation of a national model for energy self-sufficiency.  

The key components of such potential are neither simple nor easy, but they are possible.  Successful practices already exist.  For instance, Germany has taken the lead in the world and now the country produces 25GW annually mostly from solar power.  The success has much to do with 1.8 million independent solar systems that benefit 8 million people, many of whom live in communities that are self-sustainable in electricity.  Something similar occurs in Italy, second in alternative energy production in the world.  Let´s not forget that the changes have much to do with the sources for the energy, but also with its actual use. 

It is not only about generating
Energy from alternative sources,
But also about how best
To use that energy

Samana province barely has 100,000 people and Las Terrenas itself only 20,000-25,000.  We enjoy year-long sunshine and ample sections of its territory could be dedicated to massive solar power stations.   The change is already happening in a small scale as Las Terrenas counts with about 60 users that have installed solar panels.  We could potentially have 600 in the next five years!

The goal could be to make of Las Terrenas a municipality capable of producing its own electricity, similar to what thousands of communities are doing in Germany and Italy.  Many use a co-op model, or some form of shared governance.  They generate not to consume more but to consume better, effectively reducing their carbon footprint on the planet and increasing their quality of life.

We would not accomplish the same without first removing the obstacle of an electrical distribution company incapable of seeing beyond the tip of its nose and, second, without a government willing to provide an expeditious way to transform the way that electricity is provided locally.  Las Terrenas (and potentially the entire province) could benefit greatly from an alternative generation model and from a pro-active, technically-efficient management that pursuits the common good as its business plan.  In addition, it must operate under a strict business model that is not only just but also effective.

Las Terrenas has suffered terribly under a governmental apathy provoked, mainly, by the thinking that the local monopoly resolved the problem of electrical supply and demand in a remote place, even as the same monopoly practically choked the community through multiple abuses and irregularities.  Las Terrenas now needs new airs, new practices and new options, exclusively oriented towards the common good.  The German model is a good one, it´s proven successful and it´s replicable.  The government has nothing to lose and much to gain if their self-sustainable model becomes successful locally.  I believe that even if subsidized at the start, it is a worthy investment as it grows from nothing to something beneficial to large numbers of people.

As with most valuable things the devil is in the details, but it remains crucial for the energy to focus in the elimination of systems and conditions similar to Luz y Fuerza`s abusive practices, and in creating independence from a national grid that´s still filled with conflicts and problems.  We cannot pour new wine into old skins, we need to think and create the implementation under completely different assumptions and intended results.  

The energy future of Las Terrenas is promissory, but it will require new practices, new thinking and new people to make it possible.

1 comentario:

Unknown dijo...

Thank you! Well said! And what about wind turbines in the hills around Coson?