Jetten intends to take ‘substantial steps’ to make electricity production largely more sustainable

Minister for Climate, Rob Jetten, intends to take ‘substantial steps’ to make electricity production on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba largely more sustainable. He writes that today to the Second Chamber:

In this letter, I first inform your Chamber about the reason for and the core of the TNO advice for making the Caribbean Netherlands more sustainable. Then I will discuss the possibilities to take substantial steps in the short term in making electricity production on Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius more sustainable. I give an outline of the current situation, I mention the measures that can be taken in the coming years together with the island government and the utilities to significantly increase the percentage of sustainable energy and I describe the process to then take the last step of sustainability.

The current situation

The island electricity company, Saba Electric Company N.V. (SEC), is the integrated producer and distributor of electricity. On most days there is so much sun that, during the day, the facility is completely sustainable. Only after 8 pm the generators are turned on again. On an annual basis, 40% of the production consists of sun (with battery storage) and 60% of fossil fuel generators. The supply is stable; the network is almost entirely underground. Since 1 January 2022, the electricity tariff for the end-user of 0.41 USD/kWh is the highest in the Kingdom. Due to the structural subsidy and a one-off subsidy, the total energy bill of an average household in 2022 will be reduced to the level of Bonaire (USD 1309), so well below the energy bill in the European Netherlands.

Sustainability in the short term

Saba is remote, mountainous and small. This means that projects here are relatively expensive due to location and scale disadvantages. For this reason, it is much cheaper to make a major sustainability improvement than to take several small steps. In constructive consultation, the island government, SEC and my ministry have developed joint plans for sustainability by means of wind energy and battery storage. On Saba, a medium-sized wind turbine of 4.2 MW on land with battery storage is sufficient for a sustainability improvement from the current 40% to well above 90% renewable electricity. A split into several small projects for small wind turbines or solar farms would have relatively large technical and scale disadvantages and entail enormous implementation costs.

This sustainability step means that the electricity is 100% sustainable on days with usual wind and sun: for days the generators on fuel no longer turn on. For the days with little sun and wind, the generators remain necessary.

The cost of the project is estimated at $11-13 million. This estimate is based on costs of the capital goods and general assumptions based on projects in remote islands. It is advisable to take into account a higher final amount. The labor test becomes the public tender, after which a bidding party commits itself contractually.

The solar park on Saba is extra strongly founded, making it resistant to hurricanes up to and including class 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. There are also wind turbines on the market with a guaranteed resistance to class 4. However, there remains a risk of a hurricane of the largest class. Such a class 5 hurricane, Irma, hit Sint Maarten in 2017, but at 40 km. Saba, located further south, was the highest strength of Irma, class 1. On Saba itself, no hurricane force of class 5 has yet been measured (possibly the hurricane of 1780 also had this devastating force on Saba). Therefore, a class 5 hurricane could occur.

The island government and SEC have with a study on wind energy and attracting net USD 3.8 min. (3.5 million euros) in investment subsidy from the European ‘multiannual indicative programme 2021-2027’ provided a good basis for financing. Saba is an inhospitable volcano. Therefore, there is no perfect location for wind turbines, but multiple locations seem to be realistic. As soon as the island has made a final choice for the location, it can be put out to tender, after which the sustainability of up to 100% on average days but less on an annual basis will be achieved within two years.

I am and will continue to consult with SEC and the island government about the financial support in which it is also important to involve the operation of the tariff regulation of the Authority for Consumers and Markets. The form can be more investment subsidy or an interest-free loan.

Long-term perspective

As described above, TNO advises to decide on the last sustainability step around 2030 or later. This concerns, among other things, the choice of an energy source with which electricity can also be supplied during a period without wind and little sun (so-called Dunkelflaute). The savings are small in financial terms. The remaining approximately 5 to 10% fuel is saved, in addition, the generators and probably the entire electricity plant could be sold. This leads to a one-off accelerated depreciation and savings on operational costs.

Minister Rob Jetten

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