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Thursday 21 March 2019
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REThinking Energy, TT, you, me

There is nothing as rewarding as learning something new, especially when it involves learning about yourself, not in a narcissistic way but in a much broader sense that has to do with how one lives. Last week IAMovement officially launched its REThinking Energy campaign and I was very happy to be educated about how I am contributing to the economic and environmental travails of this country, while all the time believing I was doing my little bit by behaving responsibly.

The environment may still not sound sexy but it has managed to push itself to the top of the international agenda over the last 30 years and saving the planet has now become a prime concern to most young people, like those in TT who started the IAMovement. Not totally as an aside, it is interesting that President Trump’s denial that we are in an environmental crisis has made a lot of people want to hug a tree, although opportunistic big money will take advantage of this suddenly open gate.

The heartening and unexpected consequence of the Trump pronouncement and the US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord has been to rally forces and galvanise civic action at local level in 34 US states, 16 of which undertook to meet the Paris agreement on emissions reduction.

IAMovement is an NGO founded in 2014 by a group of young people who want to effect positive change. Their activities and events raise awareness on key social, environmental, social and economic issues and are intended to educate and empower individuals so that we can each make a difference, even if government policies run counter to what is in the national interest. The group has provided one of the important platforms for discussion and dialogue on current important issues and collaborates with other young people in Sustain T&T and the 2Cents Movement, for example, who have similar missions.

Having organised the PoS People’s climate marches, held climate talks across the country and led the charge to secure a national ban on styrofoam, they now have turned their attention to a REThinking Energy campaign. They secured funding from the National Gas Company and backing from the European Union and others to make three five-minute videos about the economics of energy in this country. The short films target all of us, including secondary school students. The first two–on the natural gas shortage and on the electricity subsidy can be seen on YouTube. The third, which deals with solutions for TT and sets out a sustainable energy roadmap 2021-2030, will be uploaded tomorrow. See https://www.facebook.com/iamovementorg/

There is much to learn about the enormous privileges we take so completely for granted, such as the increasingly difficult-to-justify energy subsidies which contribute to our careless environmental attitudes and to our being, in 2017, the world’s most energy inefficient country per dollar of GDP generated, according to the Economist. That is staggering considering we are one of the smallest countries, geographically.

The first film, TT’s Opportunity Cost, Our Opportunity Lost underlines the effect of the unrealistic price we pay for the electricity generated by TTEC from our national gas–US$130 million instead of US$300 million (market value) for 252 million standard cubic feet per day. If that roughly two-thirds cost subsidy had been used in the production of methanol and ammonia instead we could have sold those by-products on the international market and earned the country US$140 million in revenue, not to mention employment factors. Over five years the loss totals US$3.7 billion which could have been used to develop the country.

Film 2, The Electricity Subsidy, briefly examines what we can do to reduce our heavily subsidised electricity consumption and sets out the ridiculous economics of electricity supply in TT. In 2015, TTEC was running at an annual loss of $900 million (US$130 million) because the real cost of turning gas from NGC into electricity is 44 cents per kilowatt hour but consumers pay only 34 cents per kWh. So, not only is the Government subsidising our individual usage, having already subsidised the cost of the gas going to TTEC, the company is making no money and cannot afford to pay its debt to NGC of over $4 billion in 2018. It is a cliche to say this but any schoolchild could see the nonsense of that equation. What is remarkable is that we should have got ourselves into this position.

Regional prime minsters met here last week attempting to save the Caribbean single market and economy after Jamaica is rightly considering withdrawal if it fails to materialise in five years time. I imagine our unfair trade advantage derived from subsidised energy prices could be just one stumbling block. As the world order morphs, Caricom countries need security in numbers, maybe that alone will drive good economic and environmental sense.

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