Renewable Energy Can Help Caribbean and Africa Break off Economic Dependency on West

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 [International: Commentary]

Dr. J. Lennon says "up you mighty people."


I recently watched a video of the African Union ambassador, Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao regarding the continued unreported French exploitation of Africa: I was dumbfounded. $500 billion every year? 

How could this be possible? That injustice of this magnitude is not common knowledge? Then again, last year I discovered that when I was paying taxes in the U.K., some of it was used to reimburse the descendants of the people who exploited enslaved Africans for their "loss" when slavery was abolished. What a dagger to the heart, such contempt. I was then saddened to read about the firing of lioness Ambassador Quao. However, I was not shocked.

The fact is we are not even seen as second class citizens and to exacerbate matters, our own brothers and sisters who comprise the ruling class perpetuate the injustice. It is easily done because they are enabled by the colonizers and their organizations such as the UN, the IMF, World Bank and their NGOs and charities. From my experience in Jamaica, I can say with certainty that the UN et al exist to maintain the status quo. The so-called Sustainable Development Goals are a typical example of this:

    • they do not contain any solutions;

    • nothing about human rights;

    • nothing about debt relief;

    • and they are under the control of governments which is akin to foxes guarding chickens.

They are a joke. Prime Minister Andrew Holness, a climate change advocate and humanitarian said this about the SDGs: "Jamaica is naturally and irrevocably aligned to the SDGs and at every opportunity we reaffirm our commitment to achieving them." We'll see if his policies reflect that statement.

One legacy of colonialism is educational apartheid. Quality education is one of the SDG goals--SDG4--and I have been advocating for state investment in solar powered schools for around five years. The cost of solar panels have plummeted but this fact has escaped the UN et al. Our electricity rates are amongst the highest in the world and solar investments have payback periods under four years. Two high schools are partially solar powered--by charity--and both reported payback figures under a year.

Fact: state owned solar powered infrastructure is economically viable and implementation would not cost taxpayers a dollar. Simply apply prudence: instead of indefinitely paying electricity bills, schools should service fixed-term loan agreements – with repayments lower than bills – to pay for their own electricity generating facilities. But all our schools are on the grid. I presented my proposals to members of a branch of UNA-UK (independent from the UN) and this was their comment: The idea has potential financial, educational and of course environmental impact. Rolled out across the tropical world and indeed elsewhere it could reduce school fees and boost access to education (especially for girls), reduce carbon footprints and set an example for non-educational sectors to emulate.

I wholeheartedly agree. The SDG process is supposed to include public participation so I submitted my proposals to the parliamentarians and the UNDP in Jamaica (likewise international charities and NGOs) but they refuse to provide any feedback--the UNDP oversees the SDGs. In fact, I have been blacklisted. I had to rely on a columnist to write about my experiences and after publication the newspaper did not allow me to post a meaningful comment or reply to readers online. That is Jamaica for you.

Financing: U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and PM Holness continually bang on about financing climate mitigation and the SDGs but there will only be investment where money can be made.

I looked at our numbers and recent borrowing. Numbers never lie. Quality education and solar panels cost money but by investing in the latter you can automatically invest in education--kill two birds with one stone. So why not borrow to finance the removal of state infrastructure off the grid?

In 2018 the government borrowed $248 million for unsanctioned and unwanted projects followed by $55 million to splurge on a parliament building. How will that $303 million be repaid? That's $2.5 million plus interest every month for 10 years. I predict more austerity: history tells us that there will be mismanagement and misappropriation of these monies. 

Borrowing for everyone: The UN and IMF residents are aware of our policies. They know that many high schools have monthly electricity bills in excess of $10,000, Ardenne High reported figures around $32,000. They are aware that electricity bills are the main reason for school destitution and fees. They know that state ownership is economically viable but they still want private sector investment and that includes schools. Added to that, whilst they leisurely create the best economic climate for investors, the people and planet suffers.

If $303 million was borrowed for solar investment we know exactly how the loan would be serviced: the $2.5 million plus interest repayment would come from the millions paid to the energy supplier every month and millions would be left over.

By borrowing schools would immediately have much better budgets and the state would own electricity generating assets. The minister of finance recently tweeted about prudent borrowing to save over $18 million. Bravo! He should now explain why he cannot borrow for the removal of state infrastructure off the grid which would save over $70 million and counting every year. Energy inflation is around 10% per annum; in October the Jamaican dollar depreciated 2% against the US dollar.

Keeping schools on the grid perpetuates poverty and is detrimental to the environment. The private sector scheme is immoral: the investors will borrow the money, repay it from the lease payments and make profit. Whereas, millions would remain in education if schools borrowed, made debt repayments--instead of indefinite lease payments--and owned the facilities which could be expanded to earn revenue and power neighboring buildings.

Conclusion: The "developing world" suffers this injustice because of ignorance about opportunities and the elite who'd rather maintain the status quo. In Europe, Iceland is a volcanic island with glaciers and has state owned geothermal energy and hydropower industries. In Jamaica we receive copious amounts of free solar radiation but we recently committed to "clean" US LNGThis was unchallenged because the locals perceive solar power as an expensive luxury that we certainly cannot afford. Most of the panels that they see on public buildings are donated. The parliamentarians make sure that the world sees our nation as a charity case.

The technology is available to convert free energy sources--wind, solar radiation and organic waste--into electricity but our governments have created the perception that for this to be realized it would take astronomical capital investment and because of crippling debt--caused by government--it is unaffordable and therefore can only be done by the private sector. Hence our dependency will be maintained.

Our over dependence on imported fossil fuels is no accident. And now that hydrocarbons are frowned upon, the SDGs will ensure that we will not own a wind turbine! We must have a discussion about state ownership versus private sector investment. If we allow the latter to happen without debate we will be seen as morons, and rightly so. 

Secretary Guterres, it is immoral for a handful of people to profit from sunshine just because they claim to have the money to finance infrastructure that needs no management and little to no maintenance. The system is stacked against us but renewables have opened up an opportunity for Caribbean and African nations and others to start taking control of their destinies.  

Dr. J. Lennon, founder of Let's Build A Better Jamaica can be contacted via the website


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