Caribbean must speed renewable energy transition to manage oil shocks -official

An employee works at the Los Cocos wind farm in Juancho Pedernales
An employee works at the Los Cocos wind farm in Juancho Pedernales, Dominican Republic, April 20, 2012. . REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas/File Photo

MIAMI, April 27 (Reuters) - Caribbean countries must hasten the transition to renewable energy to cut reliance on fuel imports that have jumped in cost since the start of the war in Ukraine, the president of the Caribbean Development Bank said on Wednesday.

Imported petroleum products provide around 80% of the energy needs of the 19 countries that borrow funds from the Caribbean Development Bank, Gene Leon said in a speech, adding those imports cost those countries $7 billion annually.

"Because of the pervasiveness of energy in everything you do ... you are the mercy of volatility in the price of that product," Leon said in an interview on the sidelines of the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum in Miami.

"Our objective as a region is to come up with a properly diversified mix that is affordable ... and that we can generate with adequate control to provide (energy) security."

Electricity in the Caribbean costs three to four times that of developed countries because it is primarily generated from imported fuel, Leon said, putting the region at a competitive disadvantage to its trading partners.

To address this, Caribbean nations should install 320 megawatts of new renewable power each year, compared with only 25 megawatts installed across the region in the last nine years, he said. That would require annual investment of $1.2 billion.

Financing for this investment would mostly likely come from private enterprise, Leon said, because Caribbean governments tend to have heavy debt loads that make it difficult for them to obtain new loans even from multilateral agencies.

Getting the private sector on board requires convincing them "to see opportunities where the provision of energy becomes worth their while too," he said.

One of the bank's proposals is to install climate resilient rooftops, which can generate electricity and withstand extreme weather events, in 75% of homes in the region by 2035.

The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank has 25 member nations and 19 borrowing members, and is focused on providing financing to the less-developed countries of the region.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Sandra Maler and David Gregorio

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