Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Prior to the solar coming to Crawfish Jubi Stewart, a single mother with five children, used candles to light her rented home.

A Neglected Island Community gets a Boost

It’s not often that a country’s president visits a small village, but in October 2017 President Juan Orland Hernandez drove up and down the four kilometer dirt track crossing Roatan from south to north to one of the most overlooked communities on the island – Crawfish Rock.

“While most people invite the president to Pristine Bay or West bay I decided to have the president over in Crawfish Rock,” said Governor Gino Silvestri then running as a Roatan Mayoral candidate on the same ticket at JOH. President Hernandez decided to make a lasting change in the village and reduce local energy bills. “Originally the president promised 100 solar units to Crawfish Rock, but we ended up with 60 here and 20 in Diamond Rock and 20 in the Bight in Oak Ridge,” says Governor Silvestri.

This free solar program is part of the Hondura’s national program: IDECOAS / Programa Nacional de Desarrollo Rural y Urbano Sostenible (PRONADERS) and aims at developing “self sustainability and to strengthen communities.”

Living on the island with sometimes frequent and prolonged power outages has made Crawfish Rockers somewhat stoic. “When the power goes out for a long time I tell myself: ‘‘It’s time to clean the fridge,” says Crawfish Rock resident Virginia Connor with a smile.

Free gifts are not always appreciated, but Crawfish Rock residents say it will be different this time. “People kind of value this as they value their eye,” says Palmer who noticed a Lps. 300 decrease in her light bill. That is something she definitely appreciates and she is not about to give it up.

Some village people didn’t have any electricity before this. “I used to just use candles and my house almost burned down two or three times,” said Jubi Stewart, a single mom who cares for her family in a simple, wood, one-room rental home.

Most Crawfish Rockers use the electricity from the battery at night to watch the TV for a couple hours or run a fan for the whole night. Still, the system was not designed to run a fridge or a washing machine, some of the biggest electricity guzzlers in the village.

Originally the president promised 100 solar units to Crawfish Rock, but we ended up with 60 here and 20 in Diamond Rock and 20 in the Bight in Oak Ridge

Not all programs work out. In 2016 the Roatan Municipality began giving a “free” small solar power systems to needy residents. The solar panels were tiny and taken from a security camera system installed by a prior administration to survey the streets of Coxen Hole in 2011. The new administration dissembled the security cameras and gave the cannibalized solar panels to some of the island “poor,” including five residents of Crawfish Rock. It didn’t work. “I had problems with it from the beginning,” remembers Stewart. “If something like that happens we pull all together,” says Connor.

The current solar system installation took 15 days and there were two inspections to make sure the systems worked correctly. One of the hardest things was deciding which homes in Crawfish Rock would not receive the solar installation. “I was getting a lot of blame,” said Rosemary Garcia who helped to coordinate the project in Crawfish.

While Crawfish Rockers were abuzz with excitement, managers at RECO (Roatan’s power company), were not notified about the installations for three months. “Nobody has contacted us. If it doesn’t work people will get their feelings hurt,” said RECO’s GM Richard Warren. RECO has grown from 9,400 accounts to 17,600 in the last decade and prides itself in having built a $67 million propane powered plant.

For Crawfish Rockers the savings are already here: monthly savings of Lps. 450 per solar unit, or around $240 a year. Some of this money will have to pay for a new deep cycle battery replacement in three to five years. If RECO offered the buyback power from low energy consumers, there would be no need for this. But things could be changing in a matter of months. Warren said that RECO is prepared to implement an energy buy-back program from small consumers once their propane powered plant is evaluated by the Honduran Energy Commission.

This could mean more good news for Crawfish Rockers. A consumer with a solar panel could be selling energy to RECO instead of storing it in expensive batteries with a relatively short useful life. “Typically it’s the avoided cost, which is fuel, now at 13 cents,” said Warren, suggesting RECO would be buying the energy back at around 13 cents and sell it at 35 cents. RECO’s AMI smart meters have a capacity to do net metering and there are already 250 units installed on the island with another 2,000 in line to be purchased. Warren also suggested setting a limit of maximum energy buy-back, perhaps close to 3% like in Cayman Islands.

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