Category: Climate Change

This 2016 photo shows erosion along the beach in Annotto Bay, St Mary, due to high waves.

A warning has been issued to governments across the Caribbean, including Jamaica, to do more to make countries resilient to climate change as there is a price to pay if nothing is done.

According to a report commissioned by the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme, the Caribbean is “in the front line” and at greater risk from more severe impacts than many other parts of the world because of its geographic location as most regional states are smaller islands where people live close to and depend on the sea.

The Caribbean Marine Climate Change Report Card 2017, which was conducted by scientists and researchers, said more intense storms, floods, droughts, rising sea levels, higher temperatures, and ocean acidification are major threats to all regional economies and pose a danger to lives as well, both directly and indirectly.

“As the seas, reefs and coasts on which all Caribbean people depend are under threat, much more needs to be done to protect these resources, and the authors recommend building more resilient environments to prepare for, and protect against, climate change,” the report noted.

It has recommended developing a regional network of marine protected areas designed to future-proof marine biodiversity against climate change and stabilise shorelines to preserve natural barriers such as mangroves, salt marshes, and coral reefs.

STRONG HURRICANES TO INCREASE

The scientists warn that while the overall frequency of Atlantic storms may decrease, the strongest hurricanes are likely to increase. Global average sea level is projected to rise by a further 10-32 inches over the coming century a devastating amount for a country as low-lying as Cayman, where it could be even worse.

“In the northern Caribbean, sea-level rise could be 25 per cent higher than the global average due to other physical factors affecting land elevation,” the report states. “This projected rise in sea level and severe storms is likely to increase the risk of storm-surge events for Caribbean states, which will further exacerbate risks to biodiversity, settlements and infrastructure.”

The report also zeroed in on some countries in the region including Jamaica, Belize, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana and St Lucia.

Where fishing is concerned, the researchers noted that if there is no action – permanent fishing camps on low lying offshore cays may be completely submerged by future sea level rise, and these are particularly vulnerable during extreme-weather events.

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Dr Orville Grey (right) in action at the international negotiating table

JAMAICA CONTINUES to occupy positions of influence in the global architecture designed to work in the interest of climate change security for all, and in particular developing countries.

Just over a month ago, Dr Orville Grey, senior technical officer responsible for adaptation in the Climate Change Division, was elected co-chair of the Executive Committee (Excom) of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM).

He, along with Monika Antosik of Poland, was elected at the fifth meeting of the Excom, held in Bonn, Germany, between March 21 and 24.

The WIM was established at the 19th meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Warsaw in 2013.

Its mandate is “to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change”, according to the UNFCCC website.

Its specific functions include:

– Enhancing knowledge and understanding of comprehensive risk management approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including slow onset impacts;

– Strengthening dialogue, coordination, coherence and synergies among relevant stakeholders; and

– Enhancing action and support, including finance, technology and capacity building, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.

Clifford Mahlung, a meteorologist and seasoned climate change negotiator, representing small-island developing states, has been appointed co-chair of the Adaptation Committee.

The Adaptation Committee was established in 2010, as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework “to promote the implementation of enhanced action on adaptation in a coherent manner under the Convention”.

Its functions include:

– Providing technical support and guidance to the parties to the UNFCCC and sharing relevant information, knowledge, experience and good practices;

– Promoting synergy and strengthening engagement with national, regional and international organisations, centres and networks; and

– Considering information communicated by parties on their monitoring and review of adaptation actions, support provided and received.

“Jamaica is doing its part to ensure that the bodies of the convention and now the Paris Agreement will work to the full benefit of the parties and that we have our interest being represented at the highest level,” Mahlung told The Gleaner.

Added Grey: “It continues to show Jamaica as a leader on important issues. In this context, it is something related to climate change and provides us with an opportunity to shape what is happening in that debate and gives first-hand options to include something from loss and damage into our own national policies.”

Neither would take any personal credit for their appointments.

“It shows the confidence that has been placed in me by my developing country colleagues, in particular the members of the SIDS, who I represent, and the developing countries on the whole who appointed me to be elected as their co-chair,” said Mahlung, whose appointment also became effective in March.

Grey indicated that his new role is indicative of “the confidence of SIDS in championing the case of something that is critical to our future, which is the impact of loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change”.

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Supporters gather to listen to speakers after marching in support of science, Saturday, April 22, 2017, in Pullman, Wash. People around the globe have turned out in huge numbers to celebrate Earth Day and support scientific research and funding. Rallies in more than 600 cities put scientists alongside advocates of politics-free scientific pursuits.

 

Play from the local scientific community have given the nod to the recent science marches, staged globally for Earth Day 2017.

The April 22 marches, they say, have helped to draw attention to valuing research, particularly in the struggle to build resilience to climate change.

For Dr Orville Grey, who has responsibility for adaptation in the Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, they also demonstrate the shift in the modus operandi of scientists who now increasingly engage with policymakers and other stakeholders on their work.

“We have seen a time when scientists only spoke to scientists. There is now dialogue between scientists and policymakers, including politicians. We look at the scientific reports coming out and one of the things you recognise is that the volumes coming out now include a summary for policymakers,” said the man whose PhD is in environmental biology with a focus on climate change.

“There is a need to bridge the gap between the scientists and policymakers, including politicians, to ensure there is greater awareness and understanding and that the policies that are being presented are based on the best available science and as such that decisions are informed,” added the University of the West Indies and Northern Caribbean University part-time lecturer.

Professor Michael Taylor, head of the Mona Climate Studies Group Mona, said simply: “They were a good thing to bring attention to science and its importance in development.”

Meteorologist and long-time climate change negotiator for Jamaica Clifford Mahlung said the marches would perhaps have been especially instructive for the United States.

“The whole notion of climate change is based on scientific evidence. There were large turnouts in the US and I think that is where the message should be sent,” he told The Gleaner.

The Guardian, in an Earth Day-published report on the marches, reveals that they had seen the participation of “climate researchers, oceanographers, bird watchers and other supporters of science” from around the world whose intent was “to bolster scientists’ increasingly precarious status with politicians”.

SCIENCE CRITICAL

On that list of politicians is US President Donald Trump, whose Earth Day message nonetheless declared support for science.

“Rigorous science is critical to my Administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” he said in the statement published on the White House website.

“My Administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate,” he added.

The president’s statement comes in the wake of his executive order, signed in March, which rolls back a number of policies that had been put in place by former president Barack Obama to counter climate change. They reportedly include the Clean Power Plan and the repeal of guidance for factoring climate change into National Environmental Policy Act reviews.

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JAMAICA’S Professor Michael Taylor has made the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team, tasked to deliver what is a vital report for the Caribbean and other small island developing states (SIDS), in the fight against global climate change.

Taylor was invited to serve as one of three coordinating lead authors for the third chapter of a special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius as a global greenhouse gas emissions target.

The IPCC was mandated to produce that report, largely through lobby efforts led over years by SIDS, in the race to curtail emissions that fuel the changing climate that could devastate them.

“Chapter three merges what happens with the physical impacts of climate change, like changes in temperature, rainfall, and so on, with the impacts on ecosystems, natural systems and on human beings,” Taylor, a celebrated local physicist and head of the Climate Studies Group Mona, told The Gleaner on Tuesday.

“It is actually the first time they are merging those two things in one chapter. Normally, it would be Working Group I (WGI) looking at the physical side and WGII on the physical impact. Chapter three now will look at both the scientific basis for 1.5 and what are the impacts on managed systems as well as human beings,” he added.

Taylor is joined by two other coordinating lead authors and a team of 20 lead authors to deliver that chapter.

“We will also coop contributing authors with special expertise as needed to lead the authorship of that chapter,” noted the head of the Physics Department at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

Taylor’s research interests include understanding and quantifying the Caribbean region’s vulnerability to climate change.

Quizzed as to his feeling on being asked to serve, the scientist said: “It is a real honour; I appreciate the honour.

“It is not just an honour for me personally, but also for Caribbean science that it is being recognised in such a way. But it is an overwhelming task that is being asked so I also feel extremely overwhelmed but extremely grateful for the recognition,” he added.

 

GLOBAL RESPONSE

 

The historic Paris Agreement, which charts the course for the global response to climate change, looks to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” and pursue “efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.

The inclusion of 1.5 was hard-fought-for by Caribbean and other SIDS aided by the regional campaign dubbed “1.5 To Stay Alive”.

The campaign run primarily in the lead-up to and during the 2015 climate talks in Paris where the agreement was adopted involved regional players such as the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, communication NGO Panos Caribbean, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Saint Lucia Ministry of Sustainable Development, the Regional Council of Martinique, and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.

 

SPECIAL INTEREST

 

Among other things, it saw the establishment of a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account to promote Caribbean negotiating positions and to expose the region’s climate challenges all the while calling for the holding of temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A theme song the collaborative effort of Caribbean artistes, including Panos’ Voices for Climate Change Education’s singer Aaron Silk was also released.

“The 1.5 is a kind of threshold of viability for small islands going into the future. So this report, I think, the small islands have a special interest in because it will be the report that evaluates whether the case they are making is a good case,” Taylor said of the review work to be done in the coming months.

“And the case they are making is not just for them, but a global case. This is the report that is kind of the backbone of the aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement,” he added.

Nobel laureate Professor Anthony Chen, who was recognised for his own contributions to climate research through the IPCC, had high praise for Taylor.

“Professor Taylor is an excellent person to lead the project and I have every confidence in him,” said Chen, a mentor to the professor, whom he taught at university and who succeeded him as head of the Climate Studies Group Mona.

“I was very glad for him. He had asked me what I thought and I told him, ‘go for it’. It puts the Caribbean on the map that they should be for the 1.5 project. This is sort of a late registration of that fact,” he added.

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JAMAICA HAS ratified the historic international climate change deal, dubbed the Paris Agreement, which was reached in France in 2015, following years of wrangling among countries over what its provisions should be.

This, as the world looks to combat the changing climate that threatens, through sea level rise, extreme weather events, increasing temperatures and associated impacts, to erode economies and jeopardise lives.

“The instrument was signed by the minister of foreign affairs (Kamina Johnson Smith) on the 30th of March and the document sent off to New York for deposit at the United Nations,” UnaMay Gordon, principal director of the Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, told The Gleaner Tuesday.

“It was deposited on the 10th of April. Therefore, for Jamaica, the agreement will enter into force on the 10th of May, 2017,” she added.

Jamaica’s ratification comes close to a year after its participation at the high-level signature ceremony in New York on Earth Day, April 22, 2016.

The agreement, meanwhile, aims to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty” through a number of actions.

Included among them is “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.

The island joins other CARICOM members with the exception of Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago who have ratified the agreement.

In responding to the perceived delay in Jamaica’s ratification, Gordon said the island had a process that needed to be gone through.

PROCEDURAL MATTERS

“Once the instrument was signed (in New York last year), then we started that process. Jamaica, unlike some other countries, had a process of consultation with the stakeholders to ensure that people understood what we were doing,” she said.

“The document went to the AG (attorney general) for the opinion of the AG. We received the opinion of the AG in October 2016. In the opinion, the AG had given an undertaking that there were only some procedural matters and that Jamaica could proceed to ratify the agreement,” she added.

“But we thought as a division that we should do the consultations. So we had focus groups, individual sit-downs and so on with stakeholders from finance, forestry, energy, etc, to find out if they were in agreement with the AG’s opinion to go ahead, and all of them had no objection,” Gordon said further.

No objections were received up to February this year and a Cabinet submission made.

“Cabinet gave the approval to ratify,” Gordon said. “We are now a full party to the agreement and have to implement at the national level.”

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With the expected April 2019 departure of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union, British Member of Parliament (MP) Dawn Butler has said that the relationship among the UK, Jamaica, and the wider Commonwealth now has added importance, which should result in mutual energy benefits.

The leader of a three-member delegation on a visit to the island to explore renewable energy opportunities, Butler told The Gleaner during an interview at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Wednesday that she was optimistic about connecting with small countries to maximise all available renewable sources.

“At the end of the day, what would satisfy me the most is if the delegation has found ways in which we can collaborate and build sustainable relations with Jamaica that we can carry beyond the 2030 vision, and also if a solution can be discovered to reduce our carbon emissions.”

FINDING INVESTORS

She added: “The drawback to renewable [energy] is finding investors for the initial outlay and technology. What follows is the concern of regaining the money, but in the wider scheme of things, there’s no disadvantage. Non-renewable energy is an international problem, and as global warming gets worse, the effect on islands such as [those in] the Caribbean is devastating.”

Born to two Jamaican parents and MP for Brent Central, the British constituency with the largest number of Jamaicans, Butler further disclosed that Jamaica had not been capitalising on its branding power had outside of solar energy.

“Jamaica has a worldwide brand that other people get rich from and Jamaica hardly benefits. There is other infrastructure that needs to be put in place to ensure consistency of produce and other things Jamaican, but Jamaica has the environment and the human resource to catapult itself to higher heights.”

Butler and the delegation are expected to hold talks on renewable energy with Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Andrew Wheatley prior to their departure tomorrow.

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In this November 2, 2016 photo, Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley (left) and Chairman of Wigton Windfarm Duane Smith examine solar panels installed at a lab on the wind farm complex in Manchester. Jamaica received special mention in a new global energy report for its renewables programme.
The country saved around US$18 million (J$2.3 billion) in oil imports based on the 80 megawatts of renewable energy projects implemented last year, based on estimates utilising Government data.

Concurrently, the addition of the 80MW of renewable energy saved 800,000 metric tonnes in toxic carbon emissions, according to the energy ministry.

These factors allowed Jamaica to breathe cleaner air and climb in the Global Energy Architecture Performance Index (EAPI). It’s unknown whether these emission savings were converted into carbon credits.

Jamaica improved six spots to 92 worldwide to become a global case study for energy diversification, according to the annual EAPI study produced by the World Economic Forum.

Trading partner and oil producer Trinidad & Tobago inched up one spot to 109, from 110 a year earlier.

The Global Energy Architecture Performance Index Report 2017 indicated that Jamaica, Mexico and Uruguay, all developing countries, made strides in their energy sector performance since 2009.

In Jamaica last year, Wigton Wind Farm III added 24MW of renewable capacity, BMR Windfarm added 36.3MW, and WRB Content Solar, 20MW.

“[It resulted] in a cut in CO2 emissions of at least 800,000 metric tonnes between 2014 and 2016,” stated the energy ministry in response to Financial Gleaner queries.

“The 80.30MW of renewable energy added to the grid represents a reduction of 413,781 barrels of oil imported per year,” the ministry said via email.

Another 100MW of capacity is expected to be developed by energy investors this year, for which the bidding process is under way, it added.

Jamaica is pressing ahead with its renewable programme even as oil prices remain subdued.

The price of oil averaged US$43.33 for WTI crude and US$43.74 for Brent crude in 2016, according to the US-based Energy Information Administration statistics.

The ministry credited Jamaica’s energy successes to the aggressive implementation of the National Energy Policy – NEP 2009-2030. In ensuring that Jamaica’s energy infrastructure is as efficient, safe and competitive as possible, the NEP has within its plan of action the formulation of a new Electricity Act which provides for and promotes renewables in the energy sector, added the ministry.

The amended electricity law, in effect since 2015, was also a deliverable of the Energy Security Efficiency and Enhancement Project. That programme also oversaw the delivery of the natural gas policy and regulations, and the smart grid road map.

Jamaica appears set to surpass its initial target of 20 per cent renewables by 2030 under the restructuring of its energy mix away from crude. The ministry said the goal has already been reset higher to 30 per cent renewables by 2030.

“All things remaining equal, Jamaica will surpass the ’20 in 30′ target and we are now aiming for ’30 in 30′,” the ministry said.

The energy efficiency programme has so far saved the government $131.5 million, which translates to a 2,768-metric tonne reduction in carbon emissions.

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McCaulay: Guidelines are usually of limited importance since they are non-binding and often ignored.

Jamaica is shortly to have the benefit of a comprehensive set of guidelines for coastal management and beach restoration, as it faces down a changing climate that puts at risk coastal resources on which it is hugely dependent.

But whether the island will gain the full measure of the anticipated benefits remains to be seen.

“Guidelines are usually of limited importance since they are non-binding and often ignored. Even binding requirements are often ignored,” cautioned Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust.

The guidelines – the work of Mott MacDonald and partners – are due out in May, following on a February 22 stakeholder consultation on the document.

According to information out of the World Bank, the guidelines, now in draft, integrate hard infrastructure measures with soft measures like relocation, replanting and beach restoration and nourishment, together with non-structural solutions, including conservation and awareness raising and education.

“The guidelines consist of recommended, non-mandatory control serving as a reference for coastal protection measures,” noted Galina Sotirova, World Bank country manager for Jamaica.

“They will be used to implement and enforce new policies and strengthen those that already exist, thus enhancing disaster risk management, climate resilience and natural resources management along Jamaica’s coastline. This will directly complement the work on building resilience in Jamaica’s coastal areas,” she added.

The recent workshop reportedly saw more than 40 representatives from the public, private, academic and civil society sectors who were able to present questions or otherwise make suggestions on the document.

However, while the guidelines look to be headed in the right direction, McCaulay said Jamaica’s problem has traditionally been “that we continue to permit development that increases our vulnerability to climate change and the degradation of the marine environment”.

DAMAGE CAUSED BY REMOVAL OF SEAGRASSES, MANGROVES

“For example, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) still gives permits for the removal of seagrasses and mangroves, building is still occurring on sand dunes, sewage treatment is still poor in too many cases, resulting in decline in coral reefs, overfishing and fishing in sanctuaries still continue, setback from the high-water mark are insufficient, etc,” the JET boss told The Gleaner.

Added McCaulay: “Although NEPA does require replanting of seagrasses and mangroves, their protection and habitat functions are lost during the many years they take to grow, and in some cases, the replanting has been badly done and unsuccessful. Beaches are maintained by complex processes. If those processes are allowed to be disrupted by development, beaches will be lost.”

The World Bank, meanwhile, is optimistic for a good outcome once the finalised guidelines are delivered.

“We envision NEPA’s adoption of guideline recommendations and incorporate them into beach licence applications. The guidelines will also be readily available to all stakeholders working in coastal areas – Government, academia, NGOs, private sector, etc – resulting in the rehabilitation of degraded coastal ecosystems and reduction of climate-related impacts on that coastal sites,” she said in her address to the workshop.

“Finally, we expect that the innovative approaches recommended in the guidelines will promote the introduction of nature-based and hybrid coastal protection measures; essential to minimising the impacts of coastal hazards to secure a healthier environment, essential for Jamaica’s coastal economy and livelihoods in the tourism and fishing industries.”

The guidelines are being developed through the ACP-EU Grant ‘Strengthening Disaster Risk Management and Climate Resilience in Jamaica’s Development Planning Process’ funded by the ACP-EU.

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From left: Renford Smith, Marcus Grant and Alan Searchwell connecting the electrical components of a solar panel at the Wigton Renewable Energy Training Lab in Rose Hill, Manchester, recently.

As the debate intensifies over the possible rate increases which could face Jamaicans as more and more customers leave the Jamaica Public Service Company’s (JPS) grid, there are calls for a collaborative approach to the issue.

Manager of the Grid Performance Department at the JPS, Lincoy Small, says the various stakeholders must engage in dialogue to find an approach to provide the cheapest source of electricity to Jamaicans.

According to Small, it cannot be a matter of either renewable energy (RE) or staying on the JPS grid but a combination of the two.

“JPS is not telling people that renewable is not the way to go, because JPS even operates renewable facilities, but the key thing is to get them (grid and RE) working together in tandem to come up with the best synergy of what is best for the customer and what is best for the country,” said Small.

His comments came as Robert Wright, president of the Jamaica Solar Energy Association, told The Sunday Gleaner he has no desire for Jamaicans to leave the JPS grid.

Grid Stability

Wright said he strongly believes RE should be maximised and not just limited to large systems scattered across the island, but smaller systems distributed right across the country.

“When you have these smaller systems spread across the country it provides for better grid stability, and also it allows for more people to participate in clean energy as opposed to simply relying on large solar farms,” said Wright.

But Small said, based on experience due to the unpredictability of RE, the JPS sometimes has to resort to load shedding when customers jump on and off the grid.

He reiterated that JPS’s customers could face additional cost if the impact of RE on the grid is not handled carefully.

“So we are accepting solar power from the customers and as soon as something happens it drops off, and does so much quicker than the grid can even respond on some of those occasions, and as a result you have to be running expensive machines that are quicker to deal with those sun drop-offs or have to shed people’s light,” argued Small.

“And if you run these expensive machines or shed people’s light it means the overall cost to run the grid is going to be absorbed by the customer; you are going to have to pay for a more expensive energy source.”

The JPS executive said the company is actively seeking to incorporate new technology to deal with the loss of the intermittent renewable resources.

But Wright argued that the good news for Jamaicans is that the cost of RE is declining rapidly, enabling it to compete with traditional sources of energy.

“A system that a typical household would need in Jamaica two years ago would cost $1 million; that same system today cost $500,000, so we have seen a significant drop in prices,” said Wright.

“Also what is revolutionary is that the cost of batteries has gone down a lot, so now, even more than before, we will be able to offer that to residential customers at an affordable price.

“What is becoming more available now are systems called micro-inverters, and these allow you to install a very simple rooftop system which is cheaper, faster to install and is more appropriate for affordable housing developments, and so on.”

Batteries Expensive

But Small countered that with solar and wind on average only available for 20 and 35 per cent of the day, respectively, and the cost of buying and replacing batteries being expensive, it might be cheaper for customers to get their power from the JPS grid when RE is not available.

“It (solar) is a good thing to have, but it cannot be operated in isolation, and that is something a lot of people in the solar business not telling their customers,” said Small.

“Because even if you get a panel or a wind turbine and you get the battery, you are going to need a grid to at least charge up that battery for the 80 per cent of the time you are without solar or the 65 per cent of the time you are without wind.

“Plus, you will have to be replacing the battery every two to three years for full value, and batteries cost much more than solar panels.”

Small said the JPS is focused on supplying power as cheaply as possible so persons can take the cheap power from the grid rather than go buy a battery and use the solar power and the wind when it is available.

With Jamaica being a signatory to the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the utilisation of more RE forms part of the National Energy Policy which sees the country aiming to have 30 per cent RE penetration by 2030.

The country is currently at approximately 10 per cent of the quota, with roughly 300 net billing customers (those who have solar systems which allows them to consume energy and sell surplus) and around 10 larger customers.

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A field of photovoltaic solar panels providing alternative to the supply from the JPS.

With many local entities turning to solar systems or other renewable systems to reduce their reliance on more expensive energy supplied by the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), there is a another indication that persons who remain on the JPS grid could face the consequences.

“We all should be concerned and thoughtful. You don’t want everybody who can afford solar on their roof going off the grid because you would still have to pay for the grid,” CEO of the JPS, Kelly Tomblin, told The Sunday Gleaner during a recent interview.

“How do we take care of a particular company so that we also take care of the whole? How do we find a way to make it affordable for everybody and don’t just let people cherry-pick off the grid?” added Tomblin.

There is no official registry of the amount of renewable energy being utilised on the island, but it is estimated that approximately 35 megawatts of renewable energy has been installed between residential and business customers in recent years.

The target is to have 20 per cent of the country’s energy need being supplied by renewable sources by 2018, moving to 30 per cent by 2030.

Energy Sales

The JPS has recorded four years of decline in energy sales from 2010 to 2014, but has seen a turnaround in the last two years with a two per cent increase in 2015 and a four per cent increase in 2016.

“This could be due to the fact that the cost of electricity to customers has dropped by about 25 per cent over that time (usage tends to increase when the price of electricity is lower),” the JPS said in an emailed response to questions from our news team.

According to the JPS, while it has not yet seen any revenue fallout from renewable energy installations, it recognises “that energy sales could have been higher if some customers had not gone off the grid”.

If more paying customers move to renewables and leave the JPS, the company will be selling to a smaller group of paying customers and could be forced to find alternative ways to remain profitable, which could see electricity cost increase for some customers.

If Top Customers Left

Tomblin admitted that if the company’s top 50 customers were all to leave the grid it would cause a serious problem, but she argued that she is confident that these companies are cognisant of their responsibility to the Jamaican people.

“I am really encouraged, having been in meetings with our top 50 customers, and we are having a lot of meetings with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the Energy Committee to say how we can balance personal and country interest,” said Tomblin.

“People who are adding solar are doing so during the day; that is not when Jamaica has a peak. So unless they have storage we have to maintain the same power plant and the same grid, because they come on the JPS system at nights, so they still have to pay and, therefore, it is not that much of an impact to the system,” said Tomblin.

But PSOJ President Paul Scott said the decision to remain on the grid or not is one entities will have to decide based on what is best for their business.

“I am aware of some members who have not come off the grid because of the impact it might have on residential users, while other members have come off the grid,” said Scott, who is a member of the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team.

“So one must make their own economic decision based upon their own situation. Serious companies would take that (impact on residential users) into consideration. I would encourage our members to make decisions that will impact the overall competitiveness of Jamaica. Different industries have different utility requirements and therefore, you can’t generalise.”

According to Scott, the use of the grid will change over time, as PSOJ members, and the private sector as a whole, are always going to calculate the cost of energy as a significant part of their business.