J Hotels and Resorts to sue government

J Hotels and Resorts intends to sue the government “at length” over the Cabinet’s decision to terminate the contract for Laamu Gan Asseyri Project, which was awarded in October.

Company chairman and former ruling party MP Abdulla Jabir said no explanation for the termination was given, and claimed it was not the first time that the Cabinet had retracted a decision.  He said he had “strong suspicions” of corrupt dealings.

“There are ruling party members who decided that they want the project, so they forced the President to terminate my contract through the Cabinet. The Cabinet is unfit to operate, it is just playing games on its high chair in the Maldives,” Jabir said.

The project was won via bidding and awarded on October 12 of this year. It includes a 50-year lease of 25 hectares for the development of hotels and 79 guest houses containing a total of 1,500 beds. Restaurants, spas and sports facilities were also included in the project plan.

Originally, a joint venture company was to be created with the government, which would earn a five percent share, and J Hotels and Resorts. State Minister for Tourism Thoyyib Mohamed was previously reported saying the government preferred a private party to develop and manage the whole project, but the ministry had a ‘Plan B’ to lease out separate components of the project to different parties.

According to the government gazette the Cabinet decided to terminate the contract on November 29, and has lately decided to re-open the bidding process.

Minister of Tourism Mariyam Zulfa was unavailable for comment, however Permanent Secretary Ahmed Solih said the ministry had sent its reply to J Hotels and emphasised that the issue now lies between the Ministry and the company.

Jabir warned that the Cabinet’s decision was one of several factors that was causing a dip in investor confidence.

“These are expensive games, for the investors and for the Maldivian people,” he said. “The government is losing credibility doing this. I am disappointed that the Maldivian government is dishonoring its agreement.”

According to Jabir, the contract between J Hotels and the Ministry of Tourism was valid under Maldivian contract law.

“We have incurred losses of income and opportunity, and our lawyer is assessing those losses now,” Jabir said, reiterating that the company plans to sue the government.

He further claims that a contract cannot be terminated unilaterally, as the Cabinet has done, and that the government cannot accept bids for a project which is the active subject of a lawsuit.

Jabir was unable to provide further details regarding losses incurred.

Last week, the Cabinet instructed the Attorney General’s Office to monitor allegations of corruption made against the government, and file defamation lawsuits where such allegations were proven unfounded.

The Cabinet’s request follows growing concern that some such allegations are being made for political purposes. Meanwhile, the acrobatics of local politics could have a detrimental effect on foreign investment.

At the same time, the government has been tasked with improving its latest ratings in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which were less than favorable.


Renewable energy prices posed with high potential

The cabinet has set prices for government-owned utilities companies to purchase renewable energy as part of an investment scheme to bring the Maldives closer to its carbon neutral goal.

“We think renewable energy has a lot of potential, it is why we are in the business. We think this is where things should be going,” said Renewable Energy (REM) Director Hudha Ahmed. Noting that diesel rates are currently higher than projected solar energy rates, she said solar energy is a more reliable source long-term.

According to the Cabinet’s decision, State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) can buy a unit for Rf3.42. South Central Utilities Limited will be charged the highest rate per unit (Rf5.39), and Upper North Utilities Limited can buy a unit for Rf4.44. Units are available to Northern Utilities Limited for Rf4.40, Central Utilities Limited for Rf3.97, and Southern Utilities Limited for Rf3.94.

The Maldives currently aims to cut carbon emissions by 60 percent using solar power. Currently, no company is carrying out a commercial renewable energy project in the Maldives.

STELCO, which just received the rates and is awaiting conditions from the Ministry of Housing and Environment, said there are plans to provide renewable energy locally.

“We have some projects which are being planned, mostly in solar and wind. One solar project is expected to be commissioned in a few weeks,” said STELCO Chief Technology Officer Mohamed Zaid.

Since signing the Copenhagen Accord in January 2010 the Maldives has focused on decarbonising the electricity sector, which accounts for over 31 percent of industrial project expenses.

Decarbonising the country is expected to cost the Maldives US$3-5 billion over the next 10 years.

The rates approved by the Cabinet were researched and recommended by Maldives Energy Authority. Deputy Director Ajwad Musthafa said the rates were calculated according to fuel prices in each region and differences in fuel efficiency.

“The amounts we set were about 10 percent cheaper than they currently are in diesel,” Musthafa said.

Over 25 percent of the Maldives’ GDP is spent on diesel used for boats alone.

Consumers won’t be affected by the plan, which currently targets investors only and is likely to be lucrative, he added.

“As it stands now, a person can put a solar panel in his home and send the power to a grid. Having invested in energy production, that person can expect a six to seven year payback period before making a profit, which are expected to grow significantly with time. Currently, there is no mechanism in place between the investor and the utility company, but I believe it is being developed,” said Musthafa.

He observed that the system would be especially attractive to people in the Upper South and South Central regions, “where energy prices and feed-in tariffs are higher.”

In September, the Maldives signed the Renewable Energy through Feed-In Tariff in an effort to reduce electricity costs by promoting a shift from oil fuel to renewable energy sources.

“The existing system is fairly inefficient in these areas,” he said. “About fourteen years back the government was charging an Rf3.5 flat rate for energy. We got complaints from investors, so now we are trying to make it more exciting for investment.”

Earlier this month the Maldivian government solicited bids from solar power companies to power 29 islands, which are facing power generation difficulties. Many small islands have small power stations, which are expensive and yield disproportionate returns.

As fuel prices increase, Musthafa explained, so will the feed-in tariff, and the overall price of diesel is unlike to drop in coming years. By comparison, locally-produced solar would be a valuable option.

Musthafa said a buyer’s mechanism was being developed and would be implemented in due time. “Right now, we want to create a market that offers transparent, confident investments,” he said, adding that foreigners are expected to play an important role.

“Foreign investors will only have to sign a power purchase agreement. Nothing has to be taken from the government’s side,” he said. Local companies are also expected to benefit from external support provided by foreign investors.

Past the investment phase, the solar plan includes capacity development, training and awareness programs on renewable energy, and methods to make the investment more affordable, including concessional loans.

“Our hope is that by early next year we will have the proper institutional set up to make this happen,” Musthafa said.


Previously, this article stated, “As it stands now, a person can put a solar panel in his home and send the power to a grid…Currently, there is no mechanism in place between the investor and the utility company, but I believe it is being developed.”

It should have read, “As it stands now, a person can install a solar panel in his home and sell the power to a grid…We have already established a set of technical guidelines and application procedures for Solar PV installations. Additional regulations are being developed.”


Transport vehicles need renewable energy plan: Blue Peace

“Solar power is not the only source, and it is not enough. We have to pursue other sources as well,” said BluePeace founder Ali Rilwan about the Maldives’ recently proposed mission to cut emissions by 60 percent, using solar energy primarily.

The government’s plan was approved by the Cabinet last month, and a recent proposal from the Renewable Energy Investment Office (REIO) was submitted for crowdsourcing on the internet last week.

Rilwan called the mission admirable but incomplete. “Proposals have been made, but we haven’t seen anything in the Maldives in years,” he said. According to Rilwan, the Maldives is overlooking one of the most significant energy-consuming functions in the country: water transport.

Over 25 percent of the Maldives’ GDP is spent on diesel used for boats.

“Wetlands and vegetation absorb carbon dioxide, and the oceans are being affected by boats’ daily diesel use. But nobody has studied the specifics of carbon sinking, to calculate that 60 percent emissions reduction we need to evaluate how much needs to be done,” he elaborated. “We don’t know, we might be carbon neutral already.”

When diesel was first introduced to boats in the Maldives in the 1970s, law required that sails be kept on boats, said Rilwan. Not only was this method energy efficient, it also had cultural value.

“The sail wasn’t just carbon-neutral, it was a cultural tradition. We also used to have sailing competitions as part of our tradition. But now the sails are no longer required, although you’d think they would be a good idea for a tourist destination like the Maldives.”

Rilwan said the Ministry for Human Resources and Sports last year supported a “not so carbon friendly” motorcycle competition last year, allegedly on Hulhumale.

In January 2010, the Maldives joined 137 countries in signing the Copenhagen Accord declaring their intention to go carbon neutral by 2020. The document is not legally binding but it recognises climate change as a leading issue worldwide.

A government official said the Maldives has since focused on decarbonising the electricity sector, which accounts for over 31 percent of industrial project expenses.

Decarbonising the Maldives over the next 10 years is expected to cost the Maldives US$3-5 million.

Earlier this week, the Maldives signed the Renewable Energy through Feed-In Tariff.

The tariff is expected to reduce electricity costs by promoting a shift from oil fuel to renewable energy sources.

Rilwan praised the government’s “political will and efforts to negotiate” renewable energy in the Maldives. But he said investment in renewable energy was expensive, and that the Maldives lacks expertise.

REIO’s crowdsourcing initiative aims to improve that shortfall.

“While we are working now on the initial production planning and development we will also be looking to use local and international expertise to develop storage capacity,” said Minister for Economic Development Mahmoud Razee.

The initial plan, which is up for debate on an on-line forum, does not account for night time energy and energy storage due to its high cost. A government official said today that limiting use of solar energy to the daytime would still reduce costs significantly. Meanwhile, storage costs are expected to drop to an affordable rate in the next five to ten years.

The official added that plans addressing land transport vehicles’ energy emissions will be announced in the coming months. He noted that not only are electricity-based motorcycles and cars affordable, but Male’s small size negates the concern of going too far from a recharge station.

Although water transport energy reductions have not yet been addressed at the government level, Renewable Energy Maldives (REM) Director Hudah Ahmed said today that the company will soon be testing one of the first hybrid dhonis.

“Solar power is a viable option for the Maldives,” said Ahmed. “But we always say that energy efficiency comes before renewable energy. Consider how to do the best with what you have and what you need before you try to reinvent the system with a whole new resource.”

The REM hybrid dhoni uses a converter, and could reduce diesel consumption by 30 percent. Ahmed said the big idea is to replace current ferries and fishing boats with hybrid dhonis.

Ahmed suggested the Maldives investigate ocean thermal energy conversation (OTEC), a method of generating energy from the temperature differences between deep and shallow waters. “It isn’t commercial yet, but REM says it shouldn’t be ruled out. I think there are some areas in this country where OTEC could be useful,” said Ahmed.