BEL Chairman says solar power alone won’t be the answer to Belize’s electricity woes
Is solar power and distributed energy generation the solution to the country’s demand for more locally produced energy? The Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) has stated that it is planning to ramp up local energy production by expanding its renewable energy capabilities, one such venture is increasing solar energy production. The electricity giant is hoping to embark on a disturbed generation program for solar energy, which would enable persons producing excess solar power to sell some of that energy to BEL. The distributive generation initiative is said to benefit both BEL and consumers, but the company’s Chairman, Andrew Marshalleck, says it won’t be enough to offset the growing demand for energy in Belize.
Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman, BEL: “Solar can produce power for us on a utility scale as well as on individual scale by way of a smaller scale by way of distributive generation which is what you describe housetop solar. The utility scale solar is by far the cheaper way to go. That is where you have a solar farm, acres and acres of panels and that power is put directly onto the grid. And then you access power from the grid in the usual way and are billed in the usual way. That is very much on the table and is in our plans over the next five years. The plan calls for a considerable amount of utility scale solar to be put in place. The first two plans by BABCOL* that I referred to are utility scale solar plans an eight megawatt facility at Maskall and a seven megawatt facility at Chan Chen. And you might ask why Chan Chen and Maskall is that the farms are to be located next to existing BEL substations where the connections into the existing grid can conveniently be made. There are these romantic notions about solar that simply are not true. Solar cannot be the answer to the world’s power problems. If you covered all the cities with solar panels, it wouldn’t be enough to meet all the demand and it could not stably or reliably supply. The only way it can do that is with the assistance of other forms of generation or with batteries. The battery technology isn’t that good and when you introduce the cost of batteries into solar it actually costs way more than burning your diesel generator. So, what I might be colored indeed by my perspective from crisis but I’m not blinded by any romantic notions about solar. I personally have tried it. I put it on my farm, was there for a couple of years I took it off. It can’t be an answer to the capacity crisis that confronts BEL. It can assist and it can certainly assist but it’s not the long-term answer. The long-term answer lies in utility solar in conjunction with the other generating facilities such as the RICE plant and in conjunction as well with the introduction of utility scale batteries into the system.”
According to Andrew Marshalleck, there is still much work left to be done before the program can took root. He says there is still issues with pricing and distribution that are being looked at.
Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman, BEL: “The issue with it is regulatory and one of pricing and those draft regulations have been with the PUC for their consideration and action for some time now. As you will appreciate households putting power on the grid requires certain infrastructural adjustments and I’ll just explain it to you the way it was explained to me for instance, when a linesman goes up on a line to make a repair he needs to be sure that the line is dead and if the power is coming from all directions and always there need to be certain switches and infrastructure put in place to make sure that when you hit the switch and the line is dead it really is dead and somebody doesn’t get killed. So it needs an infrastructure that needs to be put in place. But apart from that, and that’s not prohibitive, I mean the technology, the know how to do that it is not an issue. The issue there is pricing, because solar delivers electricity only during the day, and even during the day it is intermittent. Whenever there’s cloud cover, rain, the power production declines. But even assuming that you get full power all day every day in the night you get none. And peak demand is 7 to 8 o’clock at night which means that our equipment needs to stand by idly during the day and crank up during the night to meet that demand that solar cannot meet. It means then that there’s a charge, an expense, a cost of that which needs to be factored into the price and it is the formula and the methodology for doing that where the issues arise. Even in the experiences in Florida and California where they moved ahead with net metering they have now found with the benefit of hindsight that the pricing was bad, that the price structure was in fact casting the cost of solar from the homeowner who installed it on his rooftop to the other consumers who weren’t so that a fair pricing mechanism must be devised as it is in process. One has been proposed, it’s being considered, but as I said the regulations have still not been approved.”