KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) — Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Dr Andrew Wheatley, says energy efficiency and conservation is a priority of the Government in order to reduce the dependence on high-cost imported fossil fuels.
He was speaking at the ceremony for the signing of a US$15-million loan agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for the implementation of the Energy Management and Efficiency Programme (EMEP).
The sum is the second portion of a joint loan of US$30 million for the roll-out of the EMEP. The Government signed an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the first US$15 million on November 10.
“We, at the ministry, welcome the signing of this agreement, which we see as crucial in our efforts to develop a competitive energy environment, diversify our energy sources and improve energy efficiency,” said Dr Wheatley.
He noted that the $30-million EMEP will consolidate and expand on the achievements under other initiatives, which have resulted in savings of some 3.6 million kilowatt hours amounting to more than $131.5 million as at July 2017.
He noted that some 800 people in more than 40 ministries, departments and agencies have been trained through seminars and workshops in the areas of energy conservation and energy efficiency to augment some $1.1 billion worth of investment.
Such investments include application of the cool roof solutions and retrofitting and replacement of old-technology air-conditioning systems.
“With EMEP, there will be deepening of the retrofits to be undertaken, expanding to other government entities, such as those within the health, education and security sectors. There will also be even greater opportunities for us to promote fuel conservation in road transportation, and, very importantly, support for the Government’s electricity planning function – the Integrated Resource Plan,” Dr Wheatley said.
Statistics have shown that an estimated annual average of 20.4 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) were imported during the 2010-2015 period for use in the electricity, manufacturing and transportation sectors, with an average import value of US$1.9 billion. One aim of the EMEP is to reduce the amount of oil imported for energy production.
EMEP will be executed by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), which falls under the ministry.
The push to get 30 per cent of Jamaica’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 is not a pipe dream and will be achieved, Government Senator Matthew Samuda has insisted.
The senator said that energy generated currently from renewable sources is 10.5 per cent of net electricity generation.
Speaking last week in the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate, Samuda noted that energy minister Dr Andrew Wheatley, upon taking over the portfolio last year, increased the 2030 target in the national energy policy to 30 per cent from 20 per cent.
According to Samuda, the target “certainly complements the top line objective of 5 in 4”, referring to the Government’s objective of achieving a GDP growth of five per cent by the end of the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
“This (energy target) is not a pipe dream, nor is this lip service being paid to the nation’s energy supply. I am happy to state here today in this chamber that Jamaica will target a further 100 megawatt (MW) of renewable energy for the grid, with a new invitation for proposals to be made public in the very, very near future.”
Added Samuda: “This project will have a transformative effect on the sector, and indeed, the country. These projects will, no doubt, strengthen a pillar for competitiveness and development, which is cheap, reliable, and clean energy.”
Last year, an additional 80MW of generating capacity from renewable sources was connected to the national grid, Samuda noted.
As of January 1, 2017 the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology took over responsibility for applications for net billing, electric power wheeling and auxiliary connections.
Information about the new arrangements, posted on the ministry website, comes after a period of uncertainty characterised by legislative changes, delays and temporary arrangements.
Minister of Science, Energy and Technology
Dr Andrew Wheatley announced in April 2016 that the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) would resume accepting applications on behalf of the ministry for net billing. This would be under similar terms as the previously concluded net billing pilot project, which ran for two years until May 2015. Up to that time, the ministry had received 351 applications for net billing, of which 311 were approved.
Net billing allows persons who produce electricity from renewable sources such as wind or solar to sell the excess to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), thus offsetting the electricity consumed when they use power from the grid. The OUR was charged with the responsibility for continuing to accept applications until the details of a permanent programme were finalised.
Public education specialist at the OUR, Elizabeth Bennett Marsh, says that with changes to some aspects of the legislation, the responsibility for approving net billing was passed back to the ministry.
“There was a brief hiatus where we had stopped accepting because we said we really wanted to get everything clarified. The ministry subsequently asked the OUR to continue accepting applications. So we agreed to continue until they could sort it out, and now that it has been completed we handed over,” Bennett Marsh said.
According to the information on the ministry”s website, “All persons who are desirous of connecting to the Jamaica Public Service grid are required to obtain a licence from the minister with responsibility for energy. The Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, therefore, advises the public that, effective January 1, 2017, all applications for net billing, electric power wheeling and auxiliary connections are to be made directly to the ministry.”
The ministry declined to comment by telephone on the new requirement and did not respond to emailed questions up to press time.
JPS Director of Corporate Communications Winsome Callum said the light and power company was aware of the changes and stood ready to do its part in adding new systems to the grid.
“This new development came out of the review of the net billing process in 2015. It was decided that the ministry would start accepting applications as of January 2017.
“JPS will continue its role in facilitating the contracts and the commissioning of the systems. We will continue our efforts to ensure that the connections are made as seamlessly and as quickly as possible,” Callum said in a written response.
When Blue Mountain Renewables (BMR) began operating its 36-megawatt wind farm in Potsdam, St Elizabeth, a few months ago, the facility became Jamaica’s largest private-sector renewable energy project.
Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley, who gave the keynote address at the official opening on August 11, pointed out that the wind farm would help to diversify the country’s energy matrix and ease the dependence on imported fossil fuels.
“The wind farm is expected to reduce greenhouse gases by about 66,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, roughly equivalent to taking 13,000 cars off the road,” he informed.
Wheatley also applauded the relationship and assistance the company has given to the neighbouring schools, Munro College and Hampton High, as well as the treatment of farmers in St Elizabeth who were affected during the construction phase.
Principal of Hampton High Heather Murray said that she could literally see the ‘wind of change’ with the advent of the BMR wind project.
She bemoans the fact that nearly a quarter of her school’s budget is spent on high electricity cost, money that could be spent on building a state-of-the-art science laboratory.
“BMR brings hope and we welcome them wholeheartedly. We are also excited about the efforts to go green and we are doing our part here at Hampton. Earlier this year, we swapped all fluorescent light bulbs for more environmentally friendly LED bulbs,” Murray stated.
She also informed that Hampton had installed about 12 solar panels to integrate renewable energy into their electric supply. The panels, combined with small wind turbines on the campus, now provide about one-fifth of the school’s energy needs, she noted.
The BMR Jamaica Wind project will serve thousands of customers annually. Power will be sold to the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) Company, under a 20-year power-purchase agreement. This electricity is expected to be among the lowest cost sources of power available on the JPS system.
Jamaica currently relies on oil imports to meet 90 per cent of its energy needs. This leaves the country vulnerable to fluctuating oil prices, which can make it difficult to budget and plan effectively.
To ease the dependence, the country has set a target to generate 30 per cent of its energy from local renewable sources such as hydro, wind and solar power by 2030.
President of BMR Bruce Levy said construction of the project was made easier by the cooperation of the Potsdam residents and the appreciation they showed for the work being done in their community.
“We made sure there was significant benefit to the local and wider community, with billions of dollars of direct spending and employment of hundreds of Jamaicans during construction. We say, without any fear of contradiction, that we are committed to community development,” he said.
Levy informed that the wind farm was made possible through a US$62.7 million financing package, including a US$42.7 million loan from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); a US$10 million loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and a US$10 million loan from the IFC-Canada Climate Change Programme. BMR Energy provided an equity investment of US$26.9 million.
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.
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.
Jamaicans could be on track to benefit following the successful completion of the most recent electricity-generation procurement process managed by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR).
The process saw the selection of Eight Rivers Energy Company Limited (EREC) as the preferred bidder to build, own and operate a 33.1 MW solar photovoltaic power-generation facility at Paradise Park, Westmoreland. The proposed price (all-in tariff) is 8.54 US cents/kWh.
This latest OUR-managed project is the most competitive renewable energy procurement project to date and is in keeping with the trend in the reduction in the price of energy from renewable sources. This bid is significantly cheaper than the tariffs proposed for the projects which were selected from a similar competitive procurement commenced in 2012 and based on wind turbine and solar technologies. The 37MW project has so far met all its deadlines, with the evaluations being completed by the OUR on April 26, 2016 and the highest-ranked bidders being notified of the evaluation results on May 6, 2016.
“The OUR is pleased with the proposed all-in tariff of 8.54 US cents/kWh, which we believe has set the pricing bar for future renewable projects,” said Albert Gordon, director general of the OUR.
Commenting on the project, Minister of Science Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley noted that the project executed by the OUR “marks the lowest cost ever for solar power in Jamaica, and also advances Government’s major policy objective, namely, the diversification of Jamaica’s energy supply mix to reduce cost and dependence on imported oil”.
The next step in the project requires EREC to finalise the various project agreements. If they fail in this regard, the OUR would move to the bidder(s) next in line.