Former president of the United States William Jefferson Clinton made his first visit to Saint Lucia 15 years ago, in January 2003. The visit was quite controversial, but not on account of the president himself, whose popularity was at the time still sky-high. Credit for the back and forth must go to the day’s government that had hooked up with the Lebanese billionaire Gilbert Chagoury to make the presidential visit possible. Meanwhile the press was asking questions relating to cost (“an irrelevant detail” as far as deputy prime minister Mario Michel was concerned)—a subject that the opposition party professed to be particularly concerned about (see centre pages).
There was nothing secret about the purpose of Thursday’s visit: Bill Clinton’s official reason for being here was to attend the opening of the island’s first solar farm, located in La Tourney, Vieux Fort, to be operated by Saint Lucia Electricity Services. The project was made possible with assistance from the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Rocky Mountain Institute.
The project had its start in 2013, when Saint Lucia signed up for the so-called Carbon War Room Ten-Island Challenge, the brainchild of Sir Richard Branson, to take Caribbean islands off fossil fuels and onto renewables. Actual work on the EC$20 million dollar farm began in 2017 and consists of 15,000 solar panels that will generate approximately seven million kilowatts of electricity annually—5% of Saint Lucia’s electricity demand. With the farm in operation, the company is anticipated to reduce fuel purchases by 300,000 gallons and supply 3,500 homes with electricity.
“This clearly makes Saint Lucia the clean energy leader in the Caribbean,” said special guest Bill Clinton. “I think this should be seen as the beginning of a comprehensive, determined effort to make Saint Lucia, and all the island nations of the Caribbean, stronger, safer and more sustainable.”
He went on: “This region could be completely carbon-free! What you have to figure out is how to get off the fuel that’s killing and bankrupting you and generate energy from the sun and wind. And while you do that, you have to become more resilient!”
Clinton pointed to strides being made elsewhere: “I have seen in Costa Rica, for more than six months, the entire country operated its full economy with no carbon emissions; zero! I say that, not to brag on Costa Rica, but we have to raise the others to that level. I hope that today will be a day which we’ll all be able to look back on with pride, five, ten, fifteen years from now, because it was the beginning of something remarkable and enduring.”
For his part, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet recalled last year’s devastating hurricane season. “We live in a very sensitive ecosystem,” he observed, “one in which Saint Lucia cannot do it by itself. The world continues to see us as one unit, yet we continue to act as if we are just one individual country. In order for us to be able to solve this major crisis that we have, we have to unite. This region must come together with one singular voice in order to determine how we’re going to move forward.”
Mr. Chastanet revealed that “60% of our foreign exchange goes towards purchasing petroleum products”. With renewable energy, he said, “we don’t have to concern ourselves anymore about the price of oil”.
The prime minister acknowledged the previous administration’s role in the initiative, and expressed confidence the project will be a “great success”. He said: “We remain very optimistic about the future development of the electrical sector. As a government, we are committed to projects such as these, which are key to facing climate challenges.”
Finally Mr. Chastanet thanked “all parties and partners in the project who worked toward its completion”. Also present at Thursday’s event were the Governor General Sir Emmanuel Neville Cenac, government ministers and opposition MPs, as well as representatives of LUCELEC.