Thanks to smart planning and the power grid’s ever-growing resilience, Monday’s solar eclipse appears to have gone off without a hitch for grid operators and utilities across the country despite the event’s big impact on solar generation.
For example, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) typically relies on a significant amount of solar energy, but CAISO spokesperson Steven Greenlee verifies, “We did not have any reliability issues large or small – things went very smoothly.”
“The California grid and the western Energy Imbalance Market that serves customers in eight western states performed as expected,” explains Greenlee. “While the eclipse ramp-off and back-on were very fast, we were able to manage them and fortunate that there were not major transmission or generation outages. We also got lucky that the weather in California was nice (Bay Area had fog) and temperatures were seasonable, so loads were reasonable as well.”
CAISO has “several years of managing solar (and wind) and its variability,” according to Greenlee. “Often, clouds will obscure a portion of the 10,000 MW of our grid-connected solar resources, which we have to replace with other resource types, so we have built up a strong expertise in managing such events.”
Greenlee says CAISO is still reviewing just how much of its typical 9,000+ GW of solar production was affected during Monday’s eclipse, but he notes, “Hydroelectric and natural gas provided most of the generation needed to ride through the eclipse and loss of solar output in California.”
Meanwhile, PJM Interconnection, the operator of North America’s largest power grid, reports it also ensured reliable power supplies throughout Monday’s solar eclipse.
According to a PJM announcement, the grid operator saw a drop of approximately 520 MW of wholesale solar generation connected to the grid from before the eclipse until the peak of the eclipse. In addition, PJM also estimates that electricity from behind-the-meter solar generation (mostly rooftop solar panels that offset load) decreased by approximately 1,700 MW.
In its announcement, PJM notes it had expected a reduction in power from rooftop panels to result in an increase in electric demand on the grid. However, because of a variety of potential factors, including reduced air conditioning, increased cloud cover and changes in human behavior related to the event, PJM saw a net decrease in demand for electricity of about 5,000 MW throughout the eclipse.
PJM says it will continue to study the impact of the solar eclipse on its system and will integrate lessons learned from event into preparing for the next solar eclipse, predicted to occur in 2024, when the grid is expected to have more solar generation.
Utility company Duke Energy, which has 2,500 MW of solar capacity connected to its system in North Carolina, reports that it lost about 1,700 MW of that capacity during the height of the eclipse.
Nonetheless, Sammy Roberts, Duke Energy’s director of system operations, says, “We were able to balance the Duke Energy system to compensate for the loss of solar power over the eclipse period. Our system reacted as planned, and we were able to reliably and efficiently meet the energy demands of our customers in the Carolinas.”
Elsewhere on the East Coast, Georgia Power held a Facebook Live event during the eclipse and showed real- time production analytics from the utility’s solar research and demonstration project at its headquarters.
John Kraft, spokesperson for Georgia Power, says, “We were glad for the opportunity to help educate customers about our advancements in renewable energy and the part it plays in a diversified energy portfolio.”
According to Kraft, “We have almost 900 MW of solar capacity, including company-owned projects, power purchase agreements, etc. We saw a significant drop in solar production at our small demonstration project at our Atlanta headquarters during the eclipse and expect that solar facilities across the state experienced declines in output, depending on local weather conditions and degree of eclipse darkening.”
However, he adds, “We did not expect and did not have customer outages related to power supply because of the diverse generation mix we employ on our system, including solar, nuclear, natural gas, coal, hydro and other sources. The company was well prepared for this event.”
Georgia Power plans to keep adding solar to its grid after the Georgia Public Service Commission last year approved its 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, which includes the addition of up to 1,600 MW of solar and other renewable energy through 2021.
“An eclipse is a rare event, and one that can be planned for, but it did illustrate the intermittent nature of solar that more commonly occurs with passing clouds, rainy days, at night, etc.,” says Kraft. “Like any power source, solar has benefits and limitations, and when incorporated into a diverse generation mix, as we have done in coordination with the Georgia Public Service Commission, it is an important part of our state’s energy resources.”
However, Dennis Chung, the chief executive officer of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), says if Government wants to divest its shares in JPS it might make sense, noting the valuation of the shares would be based on future prospects of the business.
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, delivering the Throne Speech in Parliament on February 9, said the Government will this year begin the process of privatising its minority shareholding in JPS.
“The Government will take steps to ensure that there is broad retail and institutional participation and Jamaican owners in the divestment process,” he said, adding that an enterprise team will be appointed to lead it.
JPS is primarily owned by Marubeni of Japan and Korea East West Power Company, each of which holds 40 per cent interest.
Paulwell said the Government’s expressed plan to offload its shares in the power utility “doesn’t mean it’s going to happen as we have seen from last year’s Throne Speech”.
Notwithstanding that, “I am opposed to the divestment of the shares at this time because we would get the least possible value on those assets in JPS, largely because everybody is aware that 290 megawatt of JPSCo capacity will become scrap metal in a matter of time when the new 190MW plant is established.”
The 190MW plant to which he referred is the proposed gas-fired power station at Old Harbour Bay, St Catherine, on which construction is slated to start in early March.
“For me, the Government should participate in the new 190 (megawatt) plant which will preserve and enhance its value, and after that plant has been established, that’s the time you can think about selling the shares,” Paulwell told the Financial Gleaner.
“If you were to sell the shares now, we would end up not getting much because we owe JPSCo so much money now; so nothing will go to the government’s coffers, because any money we make from the sale will have to go and clear our debt with JPS,” he said.
He noted that the Government currently owes the JPS more than $2 billion in bills, including for street lighting.
“So if it were to sell the shares now it will be at a depressed value. The net effect would not mean anything coming into Government’s coffers,” said the energy spokesman.
What the Government needs to do is to participate fully in construction of the 190-megawatt plant, Paulwell said. “It will cost them about US$20 million in equity,” he said, noting that for that plant, the JPS has a 20-year power purchase agreement which guarantees that project a significant rate of return on the investment for 20 years.
“That is one of the safest investments you could make. Why would the Government not be a part of that? And at that time it could contemplate on how to dispose of its shares,” said Paulwell.
“And, in any event, if it’s going to do that, the Jamaican people must be the people to whom those shares are sold,” he said.
Chung indicated that in making the decision to divest its shares in JPS, the Government must know what is happening.
He said he did not see it as a big deal to divest the shares and make Jamaicans a part of the ownership.
Referring to Paulwell’s opposition to the sale at this time, Chung noted that valuation of the shares would be done based on what is expected in terms of business.
“If you know, for example, that you have a contract to sell twice what you sold this year, then you can build that knowledge into the valuation,” he said, adding that the valuation would also be based on future prospects.
He noted that shares are traded at a price-earnings ratio and sometimes can be valued at many times more than the book value of an entity.
“So it’s based on information that people have,” he said, adding that if investors believe they are going to make a killing “out of this thing, going forward, then you value the shares accordingly”.
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.
ENERGY MINISTER Andrew Wheatley has sought to quiet ongoing concerns over reports that the new Chinese owners of ALPART, Jiuguan Iron and Steel, are looking to set up a 1,000-megawatt coal plant in Jamaica to support their operations.
“Where we are right now, we have not received any application, any proposal, as it relates to a coal-fired plant at ALPART. What we know for a fact is that the new owners are rehabilitating, retrofitting the old ALPART facility,” he told The Gleaner on the sidelines of the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF) in The Bahamas on Tuesday.
“The plan is for them to use the traditional source of fuel – HFO – to drive that bauxite facility. We expect that facility to be up and running in another 16 to 18 months, starting to produce bauxite and employing Jamaicans,” he added.
“I don’t want to speak for them, but I know they are exploring other sources of energy, separate and apart from coal,” Wheatley said further.
At the same time, the minister suggested that this ministry would not readily entertain any such application.
“The truth is that coal is a part of our energy policy, a part of that mix. But if we are to embark on such a direction, it would have to be after serious consultation. We would have to ensure that there is some technology that would, more or less, mitigate against the negative environmental impacts associated with coal in the past,” he noted.
“So there is a clean-coal technology being mooted. That is something that we would have to explore. But we would never engage or embark on the use of coal – at least that capacity of producing 1,000 megawatts – without our having the necessary consultations with the different stakeholders,” he said.
News of the 1,000-megawatt plant accompanied the sale of ALPART to Jiuguan last year. The construction of such a plant would exceed Jamaica’s current generating capacity of some 800 megawatts while threatening to undermine efforts to treat with climate change, which prompted outcry from among civil society actors.
The minister’s statements on what would need to happen regarding any coal project, meanwhile, are in line with what the Council of the Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals called for last August.
“We look forward to seeing the holistic analysis on the full economic costs and benefits for the chosen source of energy, including the lifetime costs of energy production, the cost of treatment of pollutant emissions and effluent, the cost of any investment or operation costs for ensuring compliance with all relevant national environmental and working standards,” the entity said.
“This analysis should include critical factors such as the economic cost of health effects and medical treatment from exposure to plant emissions and effluent on workers and communities surrounding the plant,” the council added.
Ultimately, like a number of other civil society actors, it concluded: “It is our position that a coal-fired plant is counter-productive to Jamaica’s own Vision 2030 and our other commitments on energy, sustainable development, and climate change,” it said.
“We hasten to point out that there is a cost associated with sourcing and transportation of coal from overseas; the potential impact on human health, including long-term treatment; and the cost of ensuring that all relevant national standards are met,” they added.
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.
Ten companies submitted bids to build and operate renewable energy plants that run on solar, wind, water or waste, but two are in danger of being disqualified for non-payment of the bid security.
The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) received the bids for supply of up to 37 megawatt of renewable power to the grid on Wednesday and will determine the preferred bidders by April.
The bids included a 24.7MW waste-to-energy plant at US$110 million, by Green Waste Energy Inc; a 37MW wind plant at US$61 million by Wigton WindFarm Limited; a 20MW solar plant, at US$33.15 million, by WRB Enterprise Inc and a separate bid to build a 37MW solar plant at US$72.15 million, which contains three options.
Great Valley bid US$50 million to develop a 26.4MW wind farm; Tamarind Energy proposed a 36.3MW at US$76.96 million; and BMR Jamaica bid US$18.27 million for a 9.9MW wind farm to expand the existing wind farm that it is developing in central Jamaica.
The other four bids were a 37MW solar project at US$48.7 million with an alternative option by Eight Rivers Energy Company Limited; a 2MW hydropower project, at US$8.9 million, by Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica; a 37MW solar plant at US$77.14 million by Jamaica Energy Partners; and a 30MW biothermal energy plant, at US$93.8 million by Bio Energy Resources Limited.
“We are happy with the process. It was done in an orderly and professional manner,” said Angella Rainford of Eight Rivers Energy Company following the bid openings held at the OUR.
“The returns are attractive, but it’s also the right fit for the country as it mitigates against the reliance on oil,” said Rainford.
Eight Rivers took no chances and submitted a US$700,000 bid security.
Two of the 10 bidders – Green Waste Energy and Bio Energy Resources – did not put up the required security, OUR legal Chenee Rily disclosed at the bid opening.
The OUR required each bidder to submit security equivalent to one per cent of the project cost.
“The only two bids with firm capacity failed to offer a bid security it’s unfortunate,” said Cecil Gordon, the director of generation at Jamaica Energy Partners, in discussion with the Financial Gleaner at the OUR event. “Waste-to-energy gives a constant output so it’s firm capacity.”
Gordon explained that wind solar and hydro can fluctuate depending on external factors, including weather. He also indicated that waste-to-energy projects are more expensive to operate – “which means a lower return,” he added.
OUR said on Thursday that the decision on whether to disqualify the two waste-to-energy bids would be considered by the bid review committee when it convenes.
Last July, the OUR issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) from local and international interests to supply up to 37MW of electricity generation from renewable energy resources on a build, own and operate basis. Wednesday was the deadline for the receipt of bid documents.
This latest project is to complete an RFP process started in 2012 to identify interested entities to submit proposals for the supply of one or more plants of varying configurations greater than 100kW and up to 115MW of renewable energy. At that time, 78MW was identified from three successful bidders.