Business

Drought cuts hydro energy output 15%

Wednesday, August 13, 2014    

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ENERGY produced by hydroelectric plants is down by 15 per cent due to the ongoing drought, according to Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS).

The utility company's nine hydro plants have the capacity to generate 23 megwatts (MW) of electricity for the national grid.

But the extended drought has adversely affected river flows, which the plants rely on to produce energy. Hence energy production is down.

"We are fortunate to have continued stream flow, though reduced, where our hydroplants are located," said Audrey Williams. "The Roaring River, which supplies the Roaring River Hydropower Plant, tends to have fairly consistent flow throughout the year."

That plant, which is located in St Andrew, is the least affected among the nine plants, according to the corporate communications officer at JPS. The two hydro plants in Maggotty, St Elizabeth, are the most affected by the drought.

Minister of Environment Robert Pickersgill reported that rainfall levels fell to 30 per cent of historical norms in June. The southern parishes, where four of JPS's hydro plants are located, saw the least amount of rain.

The utility company's conventional power plants produce more than enough energy to cover the loss in renewable output. Independent power producers also contribute over 270 MW of power to the national grid.

But less renewable energy means higher use of fossil fuels, resulting in more foreign exchange expenditure on oil imports. It also means higher electricity bills.

"JPS is currently working on a proposal which is critically important to guiding the decision on what size power plant should be built to ensure we obtain the optimal generation mix and the best results for Jamaica and our customers," said Williams. "the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has recently granted permission for two significant renewable energy projects, using wind and solar [which are] to be undertaken by other energy companies [and] which should be realised in the media term."

Hydroelectric generation is a relatively inexpensive and environmentally friendly way of producing electricity. The associated costs of producing hydro electricity are not subject to increases in fuel prices because hydro power plants do not burn fuel to generate electricity. The effectiveness of these plants are, however, highly dependent on the availability of water and the quality of the stream flow.

The Government wants to see 15 per cent of Jamaica's electricity derived from renewable energy sources by next year.

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