Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands (Thursday, June 8, 2023) - The second Turks and Caicos Energy Forum held at the Ritz-Carlton Resort on Friday, June 2, 2023, provided key insights and engendered riveting discussions on a range of considerations facing the country’s energy sector in its transition to alternative energy sources.
The full day event encompassed a diverse and cross-sectoral array of experts, panel sessions and presentations on topics including access to financing, regulatory reform, labor market trends, affordability and more. This year’s conference theme was 'Changing the Energy Landscape: People. Power. Partnerships.’
Remarks were delivered by Acting Governor, Her Excellency Anya Williams, Hon. Josephine Connolly, Acting Minister of Public Utilities, and FortisTCI President and CEO Ruth Forbes. Forbes reinforced the energy company’s plan to construct TCI’s first solar plus battery microgrid on the Twin Islands of North and Middle Caicos starting this year, with Salt Cay next in line for a similar project in 2024. Both microgrids represent an investment of approximately $8 million dollars. The contract for the Twin Islands solar installation was signed at the forum with the successful bidder, Compass Solar.
Farayi Chipungu, an Attorney, Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School and Government, and Change Management Expert, delivered a keynote presentation on Adaptive Leadership: Driving Fundamental Change. The energy transition is a multi-year, mega shift from the traditional utility model, and her presentation highlighted research, real-world examples, and core principles to help navigate the energy transition conversation.
A leadership dialogue on the perils, promise, and partnerships for the energy sector then followed with panelists Premier Hon. Charles Washington Misick, FortisTCI President and CEO Ruth Forbes, Dr. Carlos Batlle-Lopez, Advisor, and Visiting Scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Energy Initiative, Keynote Speaker Farayi Chipungu, moderated by Kenrick Walters, General Manager of Bordier Bank TCI Ltd. Hon. Misick also reinforced the government's commitment to partnership in the energy transition. In her contributions, Mrs. Forbes described the trilemma facing energy providers as balancing reliability, affordability, and sustainability.
Dr. Carlos Batlle-Lopez delivered a spotlight presentation on how changes to energy sector regulations can create an enabling environment and the importance of maintaining an "equilibrium" in the electricity sector to prevent inefficient and adverse outcomes. He stressed that a regulatory path has to be designed urgently, and the changes should be gradually introduced to avoid big shocks.
The transition to cleaner energy sources requires millions of dollars in investment. Access to funding to support the transition was examined by another esteemed panel of experts moderated by Christopher Burgess, Projects Director at Rocky Mountain Institute. The discussion featured Gillian Charles-Gollop, Executive Director of Corporate Banking and Sustainable Finance at CIBC First Caribbean International Bank, Dr. David M. Bynoe, National Coordinator of the Global Environmental Facility-Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP) at the United Nations Development Programme, Alvin Hegner, Board Chairman at Invest Turks and Caicos, and Shernelle Capron, Director of Financial Services and Supply Chain Management at FortisTCI. The panel reinforced the utility's need for locally tailored, customized financing solutions and the banks' need for updated energy sector regulations as an important prerequisite to secure green financing. Around 50% of FortisTCI's capital budget this year is committed to clean and transitional energy projects. At the same time, a significant amount has been spent over the past five years to maintain existing assets on the energy grid. It was stressed that financing the clean energy transition requires a coalition of partners, including governments, instead of being solely utility-led. References were made to successful green funding scenarios in the Caribbean.
The focus then shifted to a panel on Sustainable Solutions: The Realities and Rewards, moderated by Devon Cox, Senior Vice President of Operations at FortisTCI, with panelists Susan Gray, President, and CEO at Tucson Electric Power/UNS Energy Corporation, Nils Janson, Managing Director, Policy and Regulation at K&M Advisors, Staffan Wiens, Founder of Mint Lab and Wind Technology Expert, along with Rachell Roullet, Vice President of Innovation, Technology and Strategic Planning at FortisTCI. The panel shed light on the wide range of variables and tradeoffs that must be considered in the energy transition, such as the environmental impact of the vast amount of land needed to construct utility-scale solar farms, the studies required to make data-based decisions with robust analysis and a coordinated approach, selecting the right technology and offsetting the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy to maintain a reliable electricity service. Various energy sources, battery storage, and the growing adoption of natural gas in the Caribbean to lower carbon emissions and price volatility were cited, but the experts emphasized the need to remain agile.
The next group of experts on the agenda focused on changes in the labor force and the impact of post-pandemic trends such as the great resignation, hybrid work, tech sector lay-offs, and inflationary pressures on reshaping the global labor market and how to counteract these headwinds. Dr Candice Williams, President and CEO of TCI Community College, served as moderator, alongside panelists Richard Solomon, Managing Director & Principal Consultant at Development Consulting Center Ltd, Hon. Rachel Taylor, Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Social Services, Turks and Caicos Islands, Aisha Laporte, Vice President of Finance, Corporate Services and CFO at FortisTCI, and Bridgette Thomas, Executive Leadership Coach, President and Founder of Strongbridge Solutions. Richard Solomon stressed that work is no longer a place, and there is a demand for favorable conditions, meaningful work, and flexibility as people reevaluate their lives.
Dervon McKellop, President, Chief Consultant and UAS Pilot at DRIFT Enterprise Services, delivered a spotlight presentation on the use of drone technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in the energy sector. Drones are impacting the energy sector in major ways - improving efficiency, replacing some manual tasks, and enhancing inspections around the health of power grids by detecting damages, preventing failures, and enabling proactive repairs.
Long-standing employees from the Operations Division at FortisTCI took center stage to culminate the program in a panel session, and eloquently shared their stories as some of the people behind the power. The discussion was moderated by Wisland Toussaint, Senior Human Resources Officer at FortisTCI, and featured panelists Kerwin Arthur, Plant Control Shift Supervisor, Tavardo Smith, Electrical Technician III, Durell Landy, Manager of North and Middle Caicos Operations, and Kelorian Forbes, Line Foreman. The team received a standing ovation as they expressed pride in working for such an essential service and gave an inside view of the trials and triumphs of responding to mass outage scenarios.
Youth voices were also represented at the forum as top debaters from Maranatha Academy and Holy Family Catholic School recanted their winning speeches on the moot: "Without national or global enforcement, achieving greenhouse gas emission targets is unrealistic."
Turks and Caicos Energy Forum brings together local, regional, and international energy experts, public and private sector decision-makers, and a wide cross-section of stakeholders, to discuss ideas and trends affecting the future of energy. The forum is hosted by FortisTCI, the public energy provider in the Turks and Caicos Islands.