Energy & Mining

A Greener Path

Jamaica is simultaneously working to develop a strong renewable generation matrix while also searching for oil off its coasts.

With weather patterns worsening in the Caribbean every year, greater concern is emerging for issues of environmental protection and economic sustainability within the energy sector. Jamaican officials are not sitting idle, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness stating in November 2017 that Jamaica had the potential and goal to produce half of its electricity from renewable energy in the mid term. While touring BMR Jamaica’s wind farm, the biggest private-sector wind farm in the country, launched in 2016 and with an installed capacity of 36MW, Holness stated that the government is already working on a national plan to harness the country’s potential for renewable power generation, particularly wind and solar power solutions. Jamaica today remains overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels for its energy needs, with refined and crude petroleum accounting for almost 20% of its imports. Beyond environmental preservation, renewables could come to represent a considerable economic benefit for the country as well.

Moving wheels
While Jamaica’s renewable energy opportunities have been slow to materialize in recent years, according to the Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr. Andrew Wheatley, the country is on track to fulfill its goal of sourcing 30% of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2030. As of the end of 2016, 10.5% of the country’s power was sourced from clean sources, with 80.6MW being added in 2016, 20MW from Content Solar’s new solar park, 24MW from the Wigton III wind farm, and 36.6MW from Blue Mountain Renewables Limited’s wind park.

Furthermore, in September 2017, the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) signed a power purchasing agreement with Eight Rivers Energy Company for the development of a 37-MW photovoltaic plant in Westmoreland. The 20-year long agreement will ensure the project’s economic viability and represents only the second-ever such agreement between the JPS and a photovoltaic development, after the one signed with WRB. The project will be developed on 80ha of land and create between 200 and 300 jobs during the construction phase, which is expected to be concluded by mid-2018.
Jamaica Public Service (JPS) has been a particularly important player in pushing for renewable energy developments. In talks with TBY, Emanuel DaRosa, President and CEO of JPS, expressed his vision: “In 10 years, I see half of Jamaica’s energy coming from renewable sources, such as hydro, wind, and waste energy; this is our goal and objective, which is higher than the vision 2030 target.” However, he evidences the economic and social challenges related to these endeavors. “Looking at implementation of renewables, we cannot forget the cost of electricity. There will be environmental benefits as well as cost implications that we simply cannot afford here. For instance, achieving some of the goals of the country—even 30%—would require something in the order of at least USD1 billion in investment. If we could achieve renewables that come in at or below the marginal cost of the existing generation, this would imply no rate increases to customers to implement the renewables. Implementing renewables at any cost is not an option.”

Funding the future

In November 2017, the Jamaican government announced the signing of a USD15-million loan-agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) aimed at supporting the implementation of the Energy Management and Efficiency Programme (EMEP), a document designed to promote energy consumption efficiency and a reduction in fossil fuel dependency in the transport sector as well as the overall reduction of CO2 emissions. The whole program will cost USD30 million, with the remaining financing coming from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Earlier, in May 2017, the Minister of Economic Growth and Job Creation Daryl Vaz had already spoken on the need to find foreign investment to sustain the country’s environmental goals. He stated that the government was looking to attract USD300 million in foreign investment for new projects in renewable energy, and explained that new legal frameworks were being created to streamline licensing and development in the sector. These frameworks will be designed to be compatible with the guidelines of the Green Climate Fund of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which helps fund projects related to environmental sustainability in developing countries. With access to the funds, Jamaica could considerably accelerate its environmental efforts within the energy sector in the coming years.
Challenges of a different nature remain, however, as the country’s geological structure challenges the development of large-scale solar and even wind power. Speaking to TBY, Winston Watson, Group General Manager at Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), the government’s arm for the development of energy projects, stated that, “we do not have the landmass to address wide-scale solar. We have to balance solar and wind as we possibly have great potential with wind. We are looking at the possibility of doing offshore wind as well, though that is in the preliminary stages at the moment. My personal view is that we have to look at diversification more to ensure we will have a little bit of everything and not be solely dependent on one.” However, as financing solutions emerge, he indicated that 2018 might see acceleration in the sector. “By next year, we should be in a position to undertake several hydro projects. (…) We also seek to expand Wigton Windfarm next year, though that is dependent on the next bid round,” he concluded.
Smaller scale projects, however, are emerging to include sustainable energy production within other industries. One such development was the signing, in November 2017, of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited (SCJ) and BMR Energy for the development of a solar power system to control irrigation at SCJ’s sugar plantations. In the first stage, the solar panel network will provide half of the plantation’s power needs for irrigation, and is expected to be later expanded to cover 100% of its needs.

Crude dreams

On the other end of the energy spectrum, Jamaica continues to pursue its dream of finding hydrocarbons in its territorial waters. Those ambitions might be closer than ever, as junior oil and gas exploration and production company Tullow Oil, one of Africa’s most successful explorers, made famous by the discovery of the Jubilee field in Ghana in 2007, announced the discovery of a live oil system and oil seeps in early 2017. The company had been carrying out an extensive 2D seismic study in its offshore licenses. In August, in light of the positive outlook the studies presented, the company announced it would pursue a 3D seismic campaign during 2018, although it was unable to announce neither specific dates nor the size of the investment. So far, the company has spent USD20 million in its Jamaican assets. It will be the first time such an advanced study is undertaken in Jamaica’s upstream industry and represents an important development for what has so far been an illusive sector in the Caribbean nation.

Further down the value chain, an unexpected development can cost the government a hefty sum, if it is to be able to continue to undergo business as usual at the Petrojam refinery. The facility, owned 51% by the Jamaican government and 49% by the national oil company of Venezuela, PDVSA, has been target of concerns after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing restrictions on any dealings with institutions affiliated with the Venezuelan government. Since the publishing of the order, Petrojam’s financiers and creditors based in the US have been contacting the institution to question its relationship with PDVSA. The Jamaican government is now considering the purchase of the remaining equity in the refinery to avoid further conflict with US creditors.

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