Presentation – Senator The Hon. Robert Le Hunte, Minister of Public Utilities Trinidad and Tobago

Updated On: Feb 6th 2019

Presentation – Trinidad & Tobago Energy Conference 2019
Senator The Hon. Robert Le Hunte, Minister of Public Utilities Trinidad and Tobago

Good morning. I am honoured and grateful for the opportunity to stand among such an esteemed group of people, at such an important forum, and share with you some of my thoughts on Energy Conservation and the role of Energy Efficiency in Trinidad and Tobago. Before I get into the meat of my presentation, I would like to commend the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago for successfully hosting an annual event that speaks directly to the sustainability of the energy industries, not just at the national level, but regionally and internationally. During last year’s conference, I noted the calibre of the speakers and attendees and the quality of the various conversations that were held, whether formally or informally. And I am sure that this year is no different.

With that said, I would like to add my bit to a conversation that has, over the decades, become imperative to our survival, not just as an energy producing state, but as members of the global community.

As a society, we are at a juncture that requires a transformation of the ways in which we utilise and manage our resources. In my presentation last year, I would have spent some time talking about global warming and its impact on Small Island Developing States like ours. I am sure, you are all aware of these very real challenges and so I will not burden you with them today.

I will say, however, that in recognition of the impact of climate change, Trinidad and Tobago became a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This led to the development of a National Climate Change Policy in 2011, along with a Framework for the Development of a Renewable Energy Policy.

In 2015, we signed the Paris Agreement and subsequently completed our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Implementation Plan. That plan, which will serve as a guide for reducing our Carbon dioxide emissions at a national level, was adopted by the relevant United Nations secretariat in February of last year.

Government’s vision, as outlined not just in the NDC Implementation Plan, but also in our Vision 2030 document, places the environment at the centre of socio-economic development in Trinidad and Tobago. As such, we are working on the legislation that would facilitate the addition of renewable energy sources to our energy mix.

But even as we do this, we must be aware of the socio-economic context and the various factors that impact that eventual transformation, the most obvious being the fact that we are currently the leading Caribbean producer of oil and gas.

I spoke about this in detail during last year’s presentation, so I will just raise the most salient points today. The first being that T&TEC currently has 4 Power Purchase Agreements with contractual payment obligations which guarantee them sufficient power until somewhere around 2029.

To introduce RE energy at utility scale before that time, would be to pay for power that we do not as yet need.

It is a fact, however, that RE sources are becoming cheaper as the technology improves. With that in mind, the time will come when bringing RE energy sources on-board makes economic sense.

As such, all we should be doing at this time, is developing the infrastructural framework that will facilitate renewable energy sources coming online, while at the same time maximising our efforts at conservation and efficiency.

Even these approaches are not without their challenges. Conservation and efficiency on the part of consumers, for example, would have an impact on T&TEC’s bottom line. Because these practices when adopted, ensure that consumers use less electricity, which will then result in less revenue for the Commission.

Of course, this is just one side of the equation. Conservation and efficiency, when practiced by both consumers and power providers will not only cut costs but bring in additional revenue.

As most of you would be aware, the National Gas Company purchases gas from upstream operators and sells it far below the global market price to T&TEC to be converted to electricity. The opportunity cost of doing this instead of selling that gas on the international market, amounts to a loss of 20 Billion TT dollars over the past 25 years.

In fact, if we were to conserve 10% of the gas we use currently use, T&TEC would save 100 Million TT dollars per annum. And if that gas was sold on the international market, we would earn an additional 200 Million TT dollars per annum, amounting to a total of 300 M TT dollars per annum.

I would like to put on record the fact that the current arrangement between NGC, its upstream suppliers and T&TEC exists primarily for the purpose of providing electricity at a subsidised price to local consumers.

In other words, we have sacrificed billions of dollars to keep the price of electricity low.

Some might say that this has made us unaware of the true cost of the utility and more prone to wastage. In light of the sacrifices made, however, to ensure that the population has access to a cheap and reliable electricity supply, it is incumbent upon consumers to practice conservation and efficiency in their use of this utility.

What many of us do not realise is that energy efficiency and conservation is cost-effective not just for the Government, as I explained before, but also for our households, companies and organisations. For example, while the cost of installing and using modern, energy efficient appliances, may seem prohibitive. The truth is, that because they conserve electricity, in the long run, they end up saving us money. These technologies are also getting cheaper as time goes by.

And so, as everyday users of these various technologies, we all need to understand that energy conservation and efficiency benefit us all in a variety of ways.

This, of course, requires change not just in the energy sector but on all fronts. The main barrier to energy conservation in our country is our culture. And for us to shift the way we perceive and utilise energy, we must do the same with all of our resources – from our waste (which is also a resource) to our water. For example, are we still watering our lawns and using hoses to wash our cars in this extreme dry season? Are we still buying single-use plastics and throwing them out of our car windows? Are we turning off the lights when we leave a room?

These behaviours, are all linked. And once we start to move the public consciousness towards conservation and efficiency, we will begin to see a change in each of these areas.

Of course, one way of encouraging behavioural change with regards to our utilities and related resources would be to restructure our tax regime.

As I mentioned before, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago benefit from exceptionally low rates on their utilities. In the case of electricity, the current rate, which is the lowest in the region, is one-sixth of what is being paid in neighbouring countries.

While our water rates are among the lowest in the western hemisphere.

But restructuring the tax regime with regards to the utilities, is just one of the ways in which we can facilitate conservation and greater efficiency.

To facilitate the fight against inefficiency and misuse of our utilities and resources, Government is in the process of developing policy instruments that will speak to:

  • Increasing awareness through public education
  • Enforcing penalties for the mismanagement and overuse of these utilities
  • And Supply and Demand Side Management (DSM) Programmes with their associated projects and initiatives.

The work has already begun. In 2017/ 2018, the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards collaborated with the MPU and other stakeholders to develop the Regional Energy Efficiency Building Code (REEBC), which guides the design and construction of buildings.

And in the area of waste management, the Government is pursuing legislation in keeping with the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle philosophies. That legislation, which will lay the framework for a Deposit Refund System for Beverage Containers, will be passed in the coming months. And it is the first of other waste-management related bills that will be brought before the House.

But even as we lay the legislative and regulatory framework that will facilitate the shift towards conservation and efficiency in the use of our utilities, we invite the involvement of stakeholders at every level. And when I say ‘stakeholder’, I am not just speaking about the executive, who makes the decision to invest in more efficient technologies for his company. I am also talking about the homeowner who buys LED bulbs for her house and turns them off whenever she leaves a room.

Conservation and energy efficiency must be implemented in every aspect of our lives if we are to really change the current paradigm.

There is a saying that “if you wish to go fast, go alone. If you wish to go far, go together”. The transformation that we are seeking as we continue to build this nation, will not happen overnight. It requires that we all buy into the vision of a better Trinidad and Tobago and that we all work towards it systematically and persistently.

I noted with some degree of satisfaction, that tomorrow, a charter on energy efficiency will be signed among companies in the upstream and downstream sectors. This is the type of initiative that should be emulated across Trinidad and Tobago. I look forward to your contributions in this regard. And I invite you to continue to partner with us, as together, we take our country far.

Thank you for your time and attention.