Monday, January 26, 2015

With Venezuela facing tough economic times, Caribbean leaders head to Washington for energy talk

With Venezuela facing tough economic times, Caribbean leaders head to
Washington for energy talk
01/25/2015 2:53 PM 01/26/2015 8:15 AM

With global crude prices falling and their biggest oil supplier —
PetroCaribe — on life support amid Venezuela's tough economic times,
Caribbean leaders will participate in closed talks Monday in Washington
with Vice President Joe Biden and other U.S. officials at the first
Caribbean Energy Summit.

The summit comes as both the United States and Trinidad and Tobago seek
to help the Caribbean, where concerns are increasingly growing over the
high cost of diesel-fueled electricity and the effect of Venezuela's
economic woes on the PetroCaribe deferred oil payment program. The
arrangement allows regional governments to receive oil at a discount and
invest the savings on social and infrastructure programs.

In Jamaica, for instance, the savings is about $500 million a year and
has helped the country remain afloat during its recent financial crisis.
In Haiti, it's about $400 million and has gone into rebuilding after the
country's devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, as well as the
government's free meals social program.

For months, however, Venezuela has been cutting oil exports to some of
its 13 beneficiaries, leaving governments in a panic. While Haiti says
it hasn't suffered any, private companies have had to order additional
fuel on the spot market. Haiti subsidizes its state-owned electricity
company, EDH, to the tune of about $200 million a year.

"It is a must for us to work on the energy sector," said President
Michel Martelly. "When you talk about attracting investors, when we are
talking about energy, we cannot do this without energy. And it has been
hard for us to change the system here."

Martelly conceded that energy is one area where he has not succeeded,
and has acknowledged Haiti's vulnerabilty given its dependence on
PetroCaribe at a time when Venezuela is having difficulties.

"PetroCaribe is not dead, but it's on life support; even Cuba has looked
for alternatives beyond Venezuela," said Eric Farnsworth, vice president
of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, which is co-hosting
the energy summit.

Farnsworth said the summit is a well-timed initiative and highly
relevant initiative.

"There are several things going on here. The first is the Caribbean's
desire to diversify their energy sources away from increasingly troubled
Venezuela, while also working to improve their clean energy profile and
reducing costs of electricity in order to promote greater economic
competitiveness," Farnsworth said. "All three of these goals could be
addressed effectively by closer energy relations with the United States,
particularly as the U.S. looks increasingly to export cleaner natural gas."

Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, Farnsworth said, is cleaner than the
current fuel most Caribbean nations get from Venezuela, and cheaper due
to new technologies and increased production in the United States.

"What's lacking, for the most part, is private investment to develop the
regional energy market," he said.

This is where the U.S. can help, experts say. In recent months, Biden
and Secretary of State John Kerry have been talking about the energy
crisis in the Caribbean in visits to the region. In June, Biden launched
the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI), aimed at expanding U.S.
leadership and collaboration in helping improve competitiveness in the
Caribbean by addressing the market issues and other distortions that
have affected energy distribution.

In December, Kerry addressed the importance of energy security while
attending the 20th anniversary of the Summit of the Americas.

"The solution to climate change is energy policy," Kerry said. "Just as
climate change presents the United States, Latin America and the
Caribbean with a common threat, the need to develop secure, sustainable
sources of energy represents a remarkable shared opportunity."

Building a new clean energy revolution for the world, Kerry said,
requires countries to make "some very fundamental choices."

Anthony Bryan, an expert on security issues in the Caribbean and Central
America, says the United States' interest coincides with its resurgence
as a major oil and gas producer.

"Given the boom in natural gas and progress on exports, the U.S. could
and should do more to help lower energy costs in the region by helping
countries to convert to LNG," said Anthony Bryan, a Caribbean energy
expert and senior fellow at the Institute of International Relations at
the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad.

"U.S. government-backed export financing structures to enable LNG
exports to markets that have credit ratings below investment grade would
be a step forward," he said. "The U.S. has a lot to gain from this, in
ensuring the region's energy security and in providing another, though
small, platform for its oil and gas exports. It can be a player,
together with T&T and Venezuela in the energy saga."

From the Caribbean's point of view, Bryan said, the summit is taking
place as oil-producing Trinidad and Tobago, a global LNG player, commits
to supporting the energy needs of its neighbors.

"T&T is not interested in replacing PetroCaribe but in being part of the
solution to a weakening PetroCaribe," he said, adding that Trinidad
plans to enter into an agreement with the Inter-American Development
Bank to become the lead player in helping to resolve the region's energy

As for Monday's gathering, Bryan and Farnsworth say it's an opportunity
for the U.S. to show it intends to be a long-term partner in Caribbean
energy security.

"There are some real opportunities here for international investors and
for U.S. energy policy," Bryan said.

Source: With Venezuela facing tough economic times, Caribbean leaders
head to Washington for energy talk | The Miami Herald The Miami Herald -

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