Early indications from the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) have pointed to a breakdown in its protection systems as the most likely cause of the islandwide power outage that occurred over the weekend.
While the company has said that more fulsome investigations into the issue will take time, it has confirmed that the outage was triggered during scheduled maintenance work at the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) substation in Kingston.
“The scheduled work was part of ongoing system improvements being done by JPS to our power delivery (transmission and distribution) network,” Winsome Callum, director of corporate communications at the power company, said in an emailed response to The Gleaner.
According to Callum, initial investigations have revealed that there was a breakdown in the implementation of the established operating procedures for the work being done. This, she said, triggered a system fault that led to the outage.
“Preliminary indications are that the first level of the protection system did not operate as expected. As a result, several units at our power plants went offline. The network, in turn, shut down to protect itself from possible damage,” she said in explaining the failure on the protection system.
The protection system is a built-in mechanism on the national grid which is designed to safeguard against procedural errors.
“The protection system is designed to operate at different levels, ranging from isolating areas with a fault all the way up to the ultimate protection being to shut the entire electricity network down in the event of a major system fault,” the power company said.
The electricity supplier has indicated that in the coming days, its investigations will be focused on evaluating why the protection mechanism did not operate as expected.
The power company said it has already taken corrective measures and will be investing in system upgrades to create what it describes as a self-healing grid.
In the meantime, the Office of Utilities Regulation will today meet with executives of the JPS to discuss details of the ongoing investigations into the power outage.
The utility regulator wrote to the company yesterday requesting a preliminary report into the incident.
Callum confirmed that Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley was provided with a preliminary overview on the outage and was to receive an initial report yesterday.
As investigations continue into the power outage that blanketed the entire island on Saturday evening, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) Kelly Tomblin has promised to be open and transparent with the public about the findings of the probe.
“The only thing I know for sure is that the process was not followed one hundred per cent. I don’t know completely why that resulted in a system-wide outage. That is what my team is working on today, and that is what we are going to continue to talk to the press about. We have nothing to hide,” she said in an interview with The Gleaner yesterday.
Jamaica’s sole power distribution company said the outage was caused by a “procedural error, which resulted in a number of generating units going off-line simultaneously”.
In a release to the media, the electricity supplier said it has started its investigations and would provide further details on the cause of the outage today.
Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley was swift in expressing displeasure with JPS because of the blackout.
“Let me categorically state that I am not at all happy with this latest incident and I find the inconvenience to the people of Jamaica and the many businesses affected totally unacceptable,” he said in a statement.
Arguing that “islandwide power outages of this nature should not occur as there ought to be processes, procedures, and adequate redundancies in the grid to mitigate such a cascading set of events that would result in a catastrophic failure of this kind”, Wheatley said that he has requested that JPS submit a preliminary report on the cause of the blackout to his office today and a full report by Thursday.
Tomblin indicated that she was having numerous meetings with her technical team and was in the process of preparing a preliminary report to be submitted to Wheatley.
The JPS CEO was forthright in shedding light on the nature of the “procedural error”, which is believed to have caused the outage. She explained that the company’s technical team was still working to put together a more fulsome analysis of the outage.
“We know there was an operational error, but that does not explain something else, which will take some time to figure out. It looks as though there was a technical procedure done on the Hunts Bay station that was not completed one hundred per cent according to process, but that should not have resulted in the collapse of the system, so we have to look to see if it’s a design or engineering issue, but I don’t want to jump the gun and give inaccurate information at this stage,” she said.
In April, the country was also plunged into an islandwide power blackout. The light and power company later said that that outage was caused by problems because of work that was being done on two major power lines in the Three Miles area of Kingston.
The United Nations (UN) climate change secretariat has added its voice to concerns being raised about a proposal made by China’s Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO) for the construction of a coal-fired plant in St Elizabeth.
The proposal was announced after JISCO completed a deal to acquire the Alpart alumina factory from Russian company, UC Rusal. The new Chinese owners plan to upgrade the plant with an aluminum smelter that would be powered by a 1,000-megawatt coal-fired plant.
Based on calculations provided by the CoalSwarm Global Plant Tracker, a 1,000 megawatt coal plant would produce 5.6-5.8 million tonnes of CO2 annually, increasing Jamaica’s emissions of CO2 by 79-82 per cent. Greenpeace campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta has said that the construction of the plant would violate the Paris Agreement signed under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Commenting on the possible impact of the proposed coal plant on Jamaica’s UNFCCC standing, Nick Nuttall, UNFCCC spokesperson, pointed out that Jamaica had submitted an ambitious national climate action plan to the UN aimed at achieving a nearly eight per cent emission reduction by 2030. He also argued that the action plan promised commitments of greater investment in greener sources of homegrown energy such as wind and solar power rather than increases in oft-imported fossil fuels.
He argued that economic growth and job creation were not antithetical to environmental protection.
“Many complex choices will be made by governments over the years and decades to come, including with regard to energy sources, but today, there is an ever clearer consensus that overcoming poverty and growing GDP, which are critical for developing countries, can go hand in hand with generating new kinds of high-tech jobs; creating healthier, less polluted societies and a transition to a low carbon economy …,” he said in an email response to The Gleaner.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that the Government is committed to balancing its economic-growth aspirations with its environmental and international commitments.
Comments solicited from Jamaica’s mission to the UN and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were not forthcoming up to press time.
Director of the CoalSwarm Project Ted Nace has said that Jamaica will be unable to meet its target, of 7.8 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, should it go ahead with the commissioning of the proposed 1,000-megawatt (MW) coal-fired plant at the Alpart alumina plant which has recently been acquired by Chinese firm Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company Ltd. (JISCO).
Using the CoalSwarm Global Coal Plant Tracker, Nace shared calculations with The Gleaner, which show that a 1,000 coal plant would produce 5.6-5.8 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
Jamaica produced 7.1 million tonnes of CO2 in 2012.
“A coal plant would increase Jamaica’s emissions of CO2 by 79 per cent (for a “subcritical” plant) – 82 per cent (for a “supercritical” plant), assuming it were run at an 80 per cent capacity factor,” the coal expert said.
Pointing to the Paris country brief for Jamaica, which outlines Jamaica’s commitment under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement, Nace said, “such an increase would destroy any chance of meeting Jamaica’s commitment”.
Greenpeace campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta has argued that constructing the plant would violate the Paris Agreement.
“All signatories to the Paris agreement have accepted the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5-.2.0 degrees celsius. There is no more space for any new coal-fired power plants to be built under this goal, so in that sense the project does violate the basic aim of the agreement,” he said in an email response to The Gleaner.
According to the climate action plan, submitted to the UNFCCC by the Jamaican authorities, Jamaica has committed to a 7.8 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 under its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).
Jamaica signed the Paris Accords in April of this year but is yet to ratify the agreement.
“While the construction of a coal plant can produce a number of construction jobs in the short term, the number of long-term jobs is much lower, certain far lower than the number of jobs in the tourism sector,” Nace told The Gleaner.
According to the Nace, Jamaica could face the possibility of a coal spill given that coal terminals will have to be built to facilitate the importation of coal.
“Jamaica is not a major coal producer and as such coal would have to imported from a neighboring producer such as Colombia or the United States. This would mean construction of a coal terminal and the possibility of a coal spill,” he explained.
Consulting engineer Howard Chin is making the case for the Alpart plant, which was recently acquired by Chinese firm Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company Ltd (JISCO), to be operated entirely using renewable energy.
JISCO has announced plans to invest US$2 billion to expand the plant which will see the addition of an aluminium smelter powered by a coal-fired plant.
Chin has, however, argued that the heat that would be generated from the coal-fired plant could be detrimental to aquatic, plant and animal life in and around the Black River area, and as such, renewable-energy sources should be considered.
“Cooling the power plant and running the bauxite refinery requires a lot of water. How hot would the Black River become downstream of Alpart? Hot enough to kill animal life? Certainly, NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) is not answering these questions which have to be answered. Nor do they have the technical capability to do so,” Chin said in an emailed response to The Gleaner.
In recognition of the problem of storage capacity associated with renewables, Chin explained that a large pumped hydroelectric storage power plant could be used to power the alumina plant in the first instance.
“It could be done using a large renewable energy system backed up by a pumped storage system,” he said.
Pumped hydroelectric storage facilities store energy in the form of water in an upper reservoir, pumped from another reservoir at a lower elevation. During periods of high electricity demand, power is generated by releasing the stored water through turbines in the same manner as a conventional hydropower station. During periods of low demand, the upper reservoir is recharged by using lower-cost electricity from the grid to pump the water back to the upper reservoir.
Turning his attention to the Bayer Process, which would be used to produce aluminium should the Chinese go ahead with plans to build a smelter at Alpart, Chin observed that the heat given off could be transferred to the alumina refinery, which requires it in large quantities. According to the former Jamaica Institution of Engineers president, the smelter could also be powered by renewable energy.
“The alumina refinery needs a lot of heat. The aluminium smelter needs electricity and ends up giving off a lot of heat. Frankly, it might be possible to run the combined alumina and aluminium refining plant on a mostly very large renewable-energy system and a very large pumped storage system, and moving the heat from where it is produced to where it is needed,” he said.
Malvern, St Elizabeth — Eighteen months after ground was broken, the 36.3-megawatt wind farm run by BMR Jamaica Wind at Potsdam, Malvern, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, was formally commissioned in mid-August.
Priced at US$89.9 million, the wind project, located across the road from another wind farm run by light and power company Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), is being described as the single largest investment in St Elizabeth since construction of the Alpart alumina plant at Nain in the late 1960s.
The BMR project includes eleven wind turbines, which will provide energy to JPS’s national grid at US12.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.
BMR Jamaica Wind is a subsidiary of US-based BMR Energy. Guests at the recent formal commissioning were told that billionaire British investor, Sir Richard Branson — who turned up for the commissioning — was in the process of acquiring BMR through his wide- ranging and far-flung Virgin Group.
Branson, who triggered laughter by ripping up and throwing away what he said were his speaking notes, told his audience that his motive for the acquisition was to promote a clean energy revolution.
“I decided recently that we needed to get one or two core (clean energy) companies under our belt so that we can actually get out there and speed up this revolution …” he said.
“ We were delighted to acquire BMR and we will be out there trying to hustle and bustle governments all over the Caribbean and other countries to hurry up towards carbon neutrality by 2050. Personally, I don’t need to make money out of it, if it makes a bit of money, fine; if it doesn’t, fine. I just want to get the wind out there get the solar out there, … be powered by sun, wind, sea… a green energy revolution and bring the cost of energy down for everybody; get rid of the dangers of coal and oil and the dirty energies that we are using today… ” said Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
Funding for the BMR project in Malvern was sourced through a package including a US$42-million loan from the US quasi-government investment agency Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which pushes US overseas investment globally; US$10 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which promotes private sector development; US$10 million from the IFC-Canada Climate Change Programme and equity investment of US$26.9 million from BMR Energy.
Jamaica’s energy minister Andrew Wheatley said the BMR wind farm formed part of the government’s drive to significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce the current annual oil bill of about US$2 billion. Ninety-two per cent of Jamaica’s energy needs are currently met by oil imports, he said.
The project was in line with the target of 30 per cent renewables in the national energy mix by 2030, as stated in the National Energy Policy, and in keeping with Vision 2030 Jamaica, the minister said.
“Projects like BMR continue to establish Jamaica as a clear renewables market leader within the Caribbean. By the end of this year, we would have added 80 MW of renewable energy to the national grid, through Wigton III (a wind farm at Rose Hill in southern Manchester), Content Solar (solar plant in Clarendon), and this facility,” Wheatley said.
Bruce Levy, president of BMR Energy, said the company had plans to expand the wind farm at Malvern by an additional three wind turbines. Small farmers would co-exist with the energy-generating operations, he said.
BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor – features firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCOVERY BAY, St Ann — For the past two-and-a-half years, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has spent upwards of US$660,000 growing coral in two locations in Jamaica and one site in Belize.
If you’re like most people, you’re wondering why a development bank, with the broad objectives of helping its members reduce poverty and grow their economies, is concerned with coral.
“I don’t think it odd at all that the bank is doing this. I think the bank should be doing more things like this. In fact, if you look at the direction in which the bank is going now, you’ll see that the bank will be doing more and more things like this,” says IDB Environmental Principal Specialist, Climate Change and Sustainability Development Sector Graham Watkins.
‘This’ is in reference to the Coral Reef Restoration Program, in which scientists from the The University of the West Indies’ Centre for Marine Sciences and its Discovery Bay Marine Lab have been studying various coral species to determine their resilience to climatic variation and change, including sea level rise and increased ocean/sea temperatures. They propagate the corals in nurseries and will transplant them once they are big enough in hopes of replenishing the island’s declining coral stock over time. Work under the programme started in June 2014 and will end in November. Similar work was carried out in Placencia, Belize, through collaboration with Fragments of Hope.
Speaking yesterday at a workshop to discuss the results and outcomes of the programme at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab, Watkins explained that the programme was a natural fit for the IDB as it reflects a shift in the organisation’s policy.
“The bank recently updated its 2010-2020 strategy. It updated it mid-term, which is interesting because one of the major changes that they’ve made…they didn’t change the objectives – poverty reduction and economic growth still sit as the main objectives of the bank – but what they’ve done is they’ve made climate change and environmental sustainability institutions as completely cross-cutting. They made a clear statement that the IDB, yes, will chase those original historical goals, but it will incorporate those (climate change and environment) across the bank,” the environment specialist said.
“It is quite a fundamental change in the direction of bank,” he added.
Watkins explained that in his six years at the IDB, he has seen climate change grow from an initiative, which he defined as little more than a one-off project to throw money at, to a division, and as of this year, a full-fledged department.
Previous to that development, he said, the bank had drafted a biodiversity plan because it believes that its core objectives cannot be divorced from sustainable use of natural resources.
“If you look at biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean, you’ll see that [it’s] one of the major sources of dependence for very poor people, whether you’re talking about coral reefs or whether you’re talking about rainforests. So, if you really want to meet those goals of poverty reduction, you’re going to have to deal with those issues.
“If you look at the Caribbean and you’re going to talk about economic growth, you’re going to have to look at tourism and tourism depends on those resources, so the links are quite obvious when you think about it,” the IDB representative continued.
The directional shift towards environmental concerns, he said, had much to do with the Paris Agreement signed last December, and the Sustainable Development Goals to which UN member countries agreed upon earlier in 2015.
Watkins argued that while it may be “easier said than done” convincing politicians and other decision makers to drive the change, it is the way of the future. Strengthening the point, he pointed to an op-ed in the Guardian, written by IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno and professor of economics and government at the London School of Economics Nicolas Stern, which, in a nod to the emerging green infrastructure movement, advocated for a merger of the climate change and infrastructure development agendas.
“The idea is to bring those two things together because they are critical for economic growth and poverty reduction,” said Watkins.
The two-day workshop is called ‘Coral Lifeline’ and will include site visits to the underwater coral nurseries today
As LNG partner New Fortress Energy begins shipment of liquefied natural gas to the island, power distributor Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) is indicating that savings will depend on pricing, which varies from month to month.
Chief Financial Officer of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) Dan Theoc told the Jamaica Observer: “The cost of LNG at Bogue is likely to be cheaper than the cost of oil next month (September) when Bogue is expected to come on line.”
But, based on current price differentials and the fact that Bogue will only represent approximately 12 to 15 per cent of the generation mix, it is expected that total savings — based on this price differential – will be marginal (less than five per cent), all other things remaining equal, Theoc told the Business Observer.
Spot prices for LNG on the Henry Hub (HH) index registered US$2.82 per million Btu in July after starting the year at US$2.28 in January and falling to US$1.73 in March.
Crude, on the West Texas Intermediate index, started the year at US$30.32 per barrel and crested at US$44.65 in July.
“Unfortunately, we cannot say definitively what the impact of natural gas will be in the future because of the volatility in oil prices relative to natural gas prices,” Theoc said.
JPS will be buying natural gas from Fortress under a 20-year exclusive gas supply agreement and they will be responsible for all of the supply chain logistics and infrastructure costs.
That includes the mode of delivery to the island, the frequency of delivery, the storage of the LNG, the regasification and the distribution by pipeline to the property.
Theoc noted, “We will pay for gas based on the Henry Hub Index plus an agreed margin (which we cannot disclose), similar to how we buy fuel today from Petrojam based on the US Gulf Average Mean Index plus an agreed margin.”
In general, he added, “It is worth noting that the HH index in the past five years has been far less volatile compared to Oil-based Indices (like US Gulf, WTI and Brent Crude), so we view the move to HH as being a plus for price stability.”
It is expected that Bogue will actually make up 12 to 15 per cent of the generation mix on natural gas and that when the 190MW plant in Old Harbour comes on line in 2018, approximately 40 per cent of our generation mix will be based on gas-fired power plants.
In general, it is expected that renewables penetration will increase from five per cent in 2015 to 12 per cent by 2018.
The consequence, Theoc said, will be an improvement in fuel diversity from a situation where 95 per cent of production was oil-fired last year to a situation where less than 50 per cent is fired by oil.
The CFO said the pending award of a gas project to Jamalco will also potentially increase the percentage of generation units which are fired by natural gas by about ten per cent to further replace oil-fired units by 2019.