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A New Energy Is Blowing Across Jamaica: Harnessing Wind Power’s Potential

Jamaica currently uses fossil fuels, much of it imported, to meet over 90% of its energy needs. However, the island’s reliable year-round northeast trade winds make that renewable energy source a cleaner and cost-effective alternative for both commercial and residential use. (Solar energy has big potential too, of course. But that topic is for another article.)

“We have some small variation throughout the year, but we have a constant wind direction. That means we can harness medium and large wind power projects because of that dominant trade wind,” said Andrew Johnson, a renewable energy expert on the island.

Jamaica’s wind profile is strongest in places such as the plateau parish of Manchester, neighbouring St. Elizabeth Parish, the forested areas of west-central Jamaica called Cockpit Country, and the famous Blue Mountain range. But the latter two areas are largely located in protected areas and any move to set up wind turbines in either would likely face resistance from local environmental groups and residents.

Outside of those areas, the island’s wind energy potential is still encouraging, according to various studies conducted over the past several years. For example, a Worldwatch Institute paper found that in 15 locations across the island, the average wind speed was above six metres per second. If just 10 of those sites with the higher averages were to be developed, the report concluded, they could supply at least half of Jamaica’s energy demand.

“You need about 3-4 m/s to rotate the turbines and about 8-10 m/s to generate power,” Mr. Johnson said.

Officials from the Wigton Wind Farm in Manchester say that “the potential (for wind energy) has already been proven and there still exists untapped wind power to be harnessed.”

That site is the largest of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, with a mean wind speed of 8.3 m/s. The 62.7 megawatt (MW) complex has reduced Jamaica’s dependence on fossil fuels by about 92,760 barrels of oil per year. That may not sound like much, considering that the country consumes about 54,000 barrels per day. But proponents insist it’s just the beginning.

Government commitment

Wigton, a subsidiary of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, was built by the Jamaican government to help diversify the country’s energy mix. The use of wind and other alternative forms of energy to drive diversification has long been held as an imperative on the island. In fact, the government wants to achieve 33% of its electricity generation from renewables by 2030 and 50% by 2037. Wind, of course, forms a part of that equation.

Jamaica’s Minister of Energy, Daryl Vaz, recently told a “Conversations Canada” series on ‘Climate-Smart and Clean Technologies Infrastructure’ that “Jamaica is targeting 320 megawatts of solar and wind, 120 megawatts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and 74 megawatts of hydro waste energy and/or biomass.”

That mix, he said, would ensure reliability of service, decrease operational costs, improve source diversity and electric grid flexibility, and overall, significantly reduce Jamaica’s carbon footprint.

Professor Anthony Clayton of the Institute of Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies is an ardent proponent of the use of wind to create energy.

“We need to make the transition from our dependence on fossil hydro-carbons. There is no question about that. High energy costs make us uncompetitive. Wind power can help to reduce energy costs,” Prof. Clayton said.

Anthony Johnson, a renewable energy expert in Jamaica, is convinced that the country can achieve 100% renewable energy generation. He said it makes good business sense for companies like JMCC to include renewable energy sources as part of its infrastructure planning, considering our buildout to one million square feet of greenhouse spaces, a larger processing facility and other expansions.

However, he cautioned, wind is an intermittent energy source, “so companies like yours would need to include grid storage in their infrastructure to compensate for sharp and instantaneous drops in production.”

Mr. Johnson suggested that in cases where the wind profile does not support turbines being built close to a business, “power wheeling” could be an option. Wheeling is the transportation of electricity across the grid by an independent party other than the owner or operator of the grid. In other words, a company that generates electricity in one location can add that electricity to the local light and power company – in this case the Jamaica Public Service’s grid -- in exchange for power supply credit.

Enthusiastic investors

Another positive development is that Jamaicans appear to be literally buying into the potential for wind energy. Wigton Wind Farm was listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange in 2019 and over 31,000 participated in its initial public offering or IPO.

“Of that number, 11,772 Jamaicans or 38% are new investors on the stock market. The offer was more than three times over-subscribed,” the Energy Minister said at the time.

On the other hand, some groups have voiced concerns that wind turbines cause noise pollution and significant bird kill. The noise pollution issue from wind turbines was addressed decades ago, according to Mr. Johnson. He explained that the original wind turbines constructed in the 1970s and ‘80s were noisy because they were made of metal, very small and spun faster than modern versions. Furthermore, residential planning regulations typically include buffer zones to prevent residential construction too close to wind turbines and vice versa.

“And today, more birds are killed flying into glass buildings than by wind turbines. Remember the blades move more slowly now and only the centre spins quickly,” he said.

Jamaica’s renewables experts are encouraging the government to continue its pursuit of a diversified energy mix and to promulgate all the necessary pieces of legislation to move the industry forward. The targets have been viewed as ambitious, but certainly achievable.

And JMCC is enthusiastic about and committed to doing its part in this exciting transition.

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