Electricity on Eleuthera

Clean, Green and Pristine...
by Heather Rae -- December 12, 2007

The binder of information at our honeymoon cottage, Pink Sand, in North Palmetto Point, Eleuthera Island, Bahamas, reads (verbatim):

“Some do's and Don'ts

1. Please Conserve Water as all our water is from rain that is collected from the gutters and placed in our Cistern that is under the Cottage.

2. Please use A/C only when you are in the Cottage and do not have windows open when using the A/C.

Electric in Eleuthera is 3 times that of electric in the USA. If using the Washer/Dryer, please use only once if you are staying for a week and 2 times if you are staying 2 weeks.”

The caretaker, while awaiting our arrival, had turned on the little Toshiba TV perched above the Ponsat Satellite receiver, and its noise overpowered the hum of the wall A/C. The honeymoon was off to a good start when Dave and I, once alone, chimed in unison, let's turn off that A/C and the TV; we came to Paradise to get away from all of that. The cottage is equipped not only with TV, A/C and washer/dryer, but with an on demand electric domestic water heater, a hair dryer and a cell phone. The binder told us where to purchase calling cards for the cell phone. Forgetfulness having its virtues, the laptop -- and access to iTunes -- was at home, and it meant we were limited to the few songs downloaded the night before onto the tiny iPod that my tech-loving husband had just bought me. Electri-tech'd to the gills, I wondered how much '3 times that of USA' meant. If any of the electrical appliances came with their own equivalent 'calling cards' and some kind of watt meter, I would have swapped time on the TV and A/C for additional loads of wash -- clean clothes trumping 400 channels of audio-visual garbage any day.

And I couldn't help but wonder: if electricity costs so much, then where were the solar panels, the small-scale wind turbines and the wave and tidal generators? I searched for them in the land of sea and sun, and saw not a one.

Discontent that the USA and Paradise are so advanced in some technologies like iPods, cell phones and satellite TV, and so tediously stunted in electricity, I dropped by the office the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) just north of Rock Sound to ask just how much '3 times' is...and churn up a little more information about how BEC services a tropical archipelago. Javan Rolle, a utility manager, was Family Island-gracious to entertain a random visit from a woman in a sundress and tennies, brandishing a business card and asking about residential tariffs. We had a good laugh that nobody at the office knew, readily, the per-kWh cost of electricity on the island: it's $.15 plus a surcharge for the fuel which is 100% diesel generated, bringing the cost to about $.30 per kWh. Coming from Maine, that's about '2 times;' coming from Colorado with its heavy reliance on coal, that's more than '3 times.'

The only customer with solar installed on the entire island, grid-tied, was an outfit called The Island School at Cape Eleuthera on the southern tip of the Island and its affiliate, The Island Institute which was under the auspices of a research and pilot project for grid-tied PV.