“We foresee this fund as just one of several mechanisms that will allow Government to deliver clean, renewable and affordable energy to rural Fiji. No longer should our people be living without access to electricity. No longer should our children be subject to a life without enough electricity to study in the evening.” – Fiji Prime Minister Remarks at the Launch of the Rural Electrification Fund at Vio Village

Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

This is a great day for the Village of Vio. In fact, it is a milestone for all Fijians to celebrate a new era of clean, renewable electricity.

By turning on the lights here on Vio Island, this will mark the first site for our sweeping Fiji Rural Electrification Fund. This is a bold new initiative that aims to bring clean, renewable electricity to rural communities in Fiji that are not currently served by the electric power grid. Vio, you are the first. You have led this important effort, and I thank you for being a pioneer in the new age of clean, renewable electricity for rural Fiji.

The Fiji Rural Electrification Fund is a pioneering initiative of my Government, and it is a direct result of our Presidency of COP23. Thanks to our Presidency, we became a voice for fighting climate change and were able to develop the international relationships that make projects like this a reality. And we have big plans. We foresee this fund as just one of several mechanisms that will allow Government to deliver clean, renewable and affordable energy to rural Fiji. No longer should our people be living without access to electricity. No longer should our children be subject to a life without enough electricity to study in the evening. And no longer will the lack of reliable electric power hold back our development.

Indeed, by providing electricity, we are tearing down this barrier that has long hindered your commercial progress. No longer. This project will enable you to realise your true economic potential, creating new business opportunities for you to unleash a new era of development here in Vio. I look forward to seeing the realisation of your ambitions and your dreams in the months and years ahead.

I want to give special thanks to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation for its early vision and partnership with us.
I also want to thank the Government of the United Kingdom for its support of the Fiji Rural Electrification Fund. You are the first partner Government to join this initiative, and your support will help us extend clean, renewable energy to more and more communities as we scale this program to the next phase.

Let me also extend my appreciation to Sunergise, and to Energy Fiji Limited, who have forged a partnership that proves that environmental responsibility and business opportunities can, and should, go hand-in-hand. Sunergise is, after all, a business — a commercial developer of solar projects in Fiji and in the Pacific region –– and they had the vision and the sense of social responsibility to partner with Energy Fiji Limited to install the micro-grid and solar-battery system in Vio. As the Pacific region’s most seasoned experts in energy production, having Energy Fiji Limited on board for Sunergise to partner with has been a key component of this project’s success. And Energy Fiji Limited is constantly looking to form new partnerships like this one.

Lastly, I want to thank the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network, or “FLEMMA”. We know that community engagement is vital to the success of this initiative. FLEMMA has been here working with the people of Vio to make sure that this process goes without a hitch, and that each household here in Vio understands how the program works and what their responsibility is under the program.

Once again, partners, Vinaka Vakalevu.

Now I want to say a few words about the Fiji Rural Electrification Fund and why it is important for Fiji. When I took on the role of COP23 President, I did so on behalf of the vulnerable people on the front lines of climate change, here in Fiji, and, by extension, all over the world. I have said in nearly every public gathering during the last two years that we are all in the same canoe and that everyone needs to do their part to step up to the greatest challenge we have faced. Climate change threatens our very existence.

So we need solutions. And we need to convert talk into concrete action on the ground so that ordinary people can see the benefits of moving to clean energy. This is truly a win-win opportunity.

By bringing clean, renewable energy to Vio, the community wins, because the people gain access to electricity services for the first time.

I have heard from the community that they feel this is a blessing because the children can now study in the evenings with the convenience of electric lights. Before, if there was any light at all, it was from dull kerosene lamps or candles.

This is also a win for the climate, as we have a target of 100 per cent clean, renewable energy by 2030. This is what we have committed to as part of our contribution under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Vio is the first community to be electrified under this initiative, but it will certainly not be the last. This is not merely charity. This is a partnership with each community to be electrified under the program. While your energy bills are currently subsided by Government to help you get your footing, in the future, each household in the community will begin to pay a retail tariff for their electricity use –– the revenues from which will go directly into the Fiji Rural Electrification Fund. This will ensure that each system is properly maintained and that each community is fully engaged. Through this billing system, the project will be both environmentally and economically sustainable –– it will not only foster a culture of financial responsibility and independence, but it will make funds available to replicate this initiative and electrify other communities in deep rural and maritime areas throughout Fiji that currently sit beyond the grid.

This new model works on the principle of partnership –– a partnership that will ignite a self-sufficient, self-funded program over time. As more communities come on board, the initiative will continue to grow. Our plan is, within the next 10 years, to electrify up to 300 rural, off-grid communities in Fiji.

Now, this is our goal. This is our vision. We have not yet procured all of the initial donor funding to get us all the way to the finish line, but we are well on our way, and we are confident we will get there. With partners like the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the UK Government, we have some wind at our back –– and we hope they will give us even more of that wind as we gain more momentum and more partners, showing just what Fijians can do.

Vio, you represent the hope for a sustainable Fiji, and from this island, we will lead the way for the rest of the world.

Our future depends on it.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.