WASHINGTON: Caribbean leaders huddled in closed door talks with top US officials Monday seeking ways to diversify energy supplies as plunging oil prices and political upheavals hit their long time supplier, Venezuela.
Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie said the 20 members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) depend on imported oil and petroleum products for 90 percent of their energy needs.
“This makes us extremely vulnerable to the vagaries of the international oil market,” he said at the end of a day of talks hosted by US Vice President Joe Biden at the State Department.
Great strides have been made in renewable energy in various member states. Barbados has the third highest penetration of per capita solar water heaters in the world, Christie said.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, a mix of hydro electric and solar power contributes 25 percent of the islands’ electricity needs.
Meanwhile, Aruba has brought enough renewable energy on line to meet 30 percent of its demand, a figure which could rise to 40 percent by the end of 2015.
There is a “sense of urgency” about diversifying regional energy, Christie said.
“Our region as a whole faces developmental challenges,” he argued, highlighting the need for improved infrastructure, health and education, as well as tackling illegal migration and natural disasters.
These were “but a few of the hurdles we have to overcome as we strive to meet the expectations of the people we represent.”
“Most economies in the region have very limited fiscal space and extremely high sovereign indebtedness,” he argued.
Caracas has long been a source of cheap oil for many Caribbean nations, but with prices plunging to historic lows of around $45 dollars a barrel, Venezuela’s already stricken economy has been taking fresh hits, sparking worries the flow could dry up.
Biden vowed the United States would help the nations of the Caribbean.
But he insisted they had to take steps to tackle endemic corruption, ensure transparency in any bidding process and work towards an energy policy that was more focused and coordinated.
Significant developments were in reach “if, and it’s a big if, you can summon the political wills within your systems to seize the promise of this new moment,” he said.
– Let’s meet Obama –
In a side-swipe at President Barack Obama however, Christie noted China’s increasing interest in the Caribbean region, adding he had already met with the Chinese president twice.
And he issued an open invitation to Obama “to meet with us in the region at his earliest convenience.”
The Caribbean Energy Security Initiative was launched by the US administration in June last year, but Obama was absent Monday, on an official visit to India.
Meanwhile US Secretary of State John Kerry had been expected to meet with the delegation, but was still traveling in Europe.
Christie said there were two ways the US could help Caribbean nations: by dropping any conditions on funding for energy projects, and by facilitating the export of natural gas.