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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Belize Signs for $77 Million Solar Energy Loan From Saudi Arabia


Prime Minister of Belize, John Briceno (left), signed the agreement with Sultan Al-Marshad, the CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development.

 

Less than one year after establishing diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Belize has signed two loan agreements with the Saudi Fund for Development.


Belize and the Saudi Fund for Development signed the first loan agreement in May. The US$45 million loan was earmarked for the construction of a tertiary, or specialty, hospital in Belmopan, reported Caribbean News Service (May 31).


The second loan agreement, signed earlier this month, was for US$77 million and construction of a 60-megawatt (MV) solar energy project.


Belize’s peak power demand is about 105.6 megawatts (MV) during the year, according to the Annual Report, 2019, Belize Electricity Limited (BEL).


Belize is already the leader in renewable energy (by percentage of total electricity generated in-country) in the Caribbean and the second largest producer in North and Central America.


At the signing on August 4, Belize Prime Minister John Briceno said that the solar project is timely as Belize finds it necessary to expand its energy output because of a growing economy.


“This brings numerous benefits to Belize, including clean energy, cost savings, energy independence, environmental sustainability, job creation and improved access to electricity to rural communities,” said Prime Minister Briceno said, according to the Saudi Fund for Development (August 5).


His Excellency Sultan Al-Marshad, Chief Executive Officer of the Saudi Fund for Development, said:


“Today’s agreement marks an important step forward in the existing development cooperation between both countries. The project to construct a solar energy plant in Belize will support the health and well/being of the local population, and help provide direct and indirect job opportunities, which will contribute towards the socio-economic growth of the country.”

 

San Pedro, Ambergris Caye (Photo from Annual Report, 2019, Belize Electricity Limited)

 

In 30 years, Belize has achieved astounding success in providing access to electricity in urban and rural areas to its population of about 400,000.


In 1991, Belize electricity access was 67 percent compared with 97.69 percent access in 2021, according to the World Bank.

Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) is the primary distributor of electricity in Belize. Aggregate energy sold was approximately 588.4 gigawatt hours (GWh) in 2019, up from 554. 4 GWh in 2018. The company served a customer base of more than 100,000 accounts, an increase of more than 1,100 accounts in 2018, according to the Annual Report, 2019, Belize Electricity Limited (BEL).


The grid of 1,900 miles of transmission and primary distribution lines is supplied primarily by local Independent Power Producers (IPP), utilizing hydroelectricity, biomass, petroleum and solar energy. It is secured and stabilized by a 115-kV (kilovolt) interconnection with Mexico.


As of 2019, 58.6 percent of electrical production was renewable.


Belize Electricity Limited also operates two diesel generation facilities, a gas turbine plant as a standby plant for energy security and reliability and an off-grid power station that supplies the island of Caye Caulker.


Health Infrastructure Loan


In May, Belize became the 88th country to enter into an agreement with the Saudi Fund for Development, according to News 5 (May 31). The $45 million loan is planned to be used for the construction of a tertiary hospital in Belize’s capital of Belmopan.


“The facility will be built on the University of Belize campus and would also serve as a university hospital for medical education. The loan is accompanied by a 2 percent interest rate. The loan comes nine months after Belize and Saudi Arabia established diplomatic relations,” reported News 5 (June 5).


Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health & Wellness said: “Our objective is to attain universal health coverage. There’s a need to ensure that these opportunities come to the Belizean people and building a tertiary facility will only be able to provide that better service and access to healthcare for our Belizean people. So, definitely, I want to thank you on behalf of us at the ministry and the wider Belizean people.”


Countries and organizations other than the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), have a historical lending and/or donor relationship with Belize.


For example, U.S. assistance to Belize totaled more than $120 million in USAID, security and other funding during the past 20 years, according to the U.S. Embassy, Belmopan (April 22, 2020).


Saudi Development Fund


Since the Saudi Fund for Development was established in 1975, it has implemented more than 700 development projects in 90 developing countries by granting them loans, technical aids and institutional support, according to the fund.


The agreements with Belize build on the fund’s effort to promote sustainable development in the Caribbean and in emerging economies, reported Arab News (August 6).


Regarding support of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the Saudi Fund for Development also met with Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, of Grenada, on August 2.


Prime Minister Mitchell said in Arab News:


“Grenada is working with the Saudi Fund for Development to sign an agreement to support major infrastructure projects that will address Grenada’s ability to address and mitigate the affects of climate change in some key urban and rural tourist areas, including coastlines and beaches.”


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