WASHINGTON, D.C., January 30, 2015 (AMG) — The first Caribbean Energy Security Summit was hosted by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C. on January 26. The summit focused on ways for Caribbean nations to convert to cleaner natural gas and alternative energy sources, in part to lower their dependence on Venezuelan oil. As oil prices around the world plummet, the Caribbean’s dependence on a single outside source has become risky.
Venezuela began supplying a majority of Caribbean countries with cheap petroleum products in 2005 through their Petrocaribe program. This program offers products at market prices, but allows member nations to pay only a small portion of the price up front, and finance the rest with long-term debt agreements or trades for agricultural products or services.
While the Petrocaribe program has allowed Caribbean nations to fund their governments and public works projects, it has also discouraged them from seeking energy independence. The current oil price puts the Petrocaribe program in danger of falling apart, which would leave the small Caribbean countries with piles of debt and no oil.
Vice President Biden called the Caribbean the “new epicenter of energy,” and urged that energy diversification and independence is within reach. James Fletcher, the Energy Minister of St. Lucia, agreed, saying, “we have to control our own destiny.”
In addition to representatives from most Caribbean countries, the summit involved representatives of the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank. The Caribbean leaders highlighted their energy goals and agreed to pursue energy diversification programs, including clean energy efforts. The World Bank proposed creating a Caribbean Energy Investment Network to bring together development partners and Caribbean nations.
The United States is becoming deeply involved with energy projects in the Caribbean. For example, the U.S Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) announced that it will disburse the first tranche of approximately $43 million in financing for a 34 MW wind project in Jamaica. Meanwhile, the Department of State is providing technical assistance for geothermal projects in Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Additionally, the US Energy Association is supporting power sector reform in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador. USAID, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and others are all focused on providing financing and technical assistance with various clean energy projects throughout the Caribbean.
A joint statement from the Summit reaffirmed the United States’ “commitment to support the Caribbean’s transformation of the energy systems of Caribbean states, [and] to share lessons learned through new and expanded regional information networks.”