Rainforest invests US$1m in solar energy

BY STEVEN JACKSON Business reporter jacksons@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 03, 2015

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RAINFOREST Seafoods has invested roughly US$1 million to set up a 500-kilowatt solar energy power system at its office in Kingston in a move that will pay for itself in under four years, according to management.

The investment aims to support the seafood company's drive to cut costs and grow exports to half its total revenues in the medium term. Exports currently account for 30 per cent of the company's revenues.

"It's one of the largest Photovoltaic systems in Jamaica," said consultant engineer to the project Paul Stockhausen on Wednesday in an exclusive round table interview at the facility in Kingston.

The system contains over 1700 solar-energy panels that span 3,000 sq feet of roof space. The company plans to use all the power generated to run its vast cold storage facilities and power its offices.

"It cost us roughly US$1 million and will pay for itself in roughly three and a half years' time -- maybe even less," said Ernest Grant, general manager at Rainforest in a round table interview. "We will save about US$200,000 per year."

The savings equate to cutting the company's electricity bill by about 25 per cent. The project started in January and was completed in mid-April. The Development Bank of Jamaica offered financing for the project, while Sofos Energy Ltd installed the panels.

Rainforest management indicated that it remains steadfast in its export thrust and views the reduction of its cost of production as crucial.

"We already have a disadvantage of high energy costs in Jamaica. In order for us to compete with the other countries, we had to find ways of getting around that, so we could continue operating from Jamaica competitively," stated Christopher Dickenson, director of operations at Rainforest in the interview.

Rainforest exports fish, lobster, conch and other seafood to nine territories that cover the Caribbean and USA. It expects to expand that product range going forward.

"What we are trying to do is to add more value-added exports. And in order to do this we have to reduce the cost of production," added Dickenson.

The Brian Jardim-led Rainforest is one of the largest distributors of seafood and fish products in the Caribbean. The operations were buttressed with a US$8 -million investment to establish its Kingston Slipe Road plant nearly four years ago. The Slipe Road facility can store six million pounds of seafood -- more than doubling the storage capacity of the company's initial plant in Montego Bay -- and its operations include cooking and breading, smoking, filleting, producing ready-to-eat meals and modified atmosphere packaging. Among the value-added products that will be produced at the facility are a heat-and-serve conch soup and a jerk shrimp.

Rainforest previously installed LED lights in all locations and utilised bio-diesel converted from used cooking oil. The company also installed insulation for the buildings to reduce the energy required to maintain cooling.

Rainforest operates several outlets across Jamaica serving thousands of customers daily, as well as processing operations and fishing vessels in Belize and Honduras. Additionally, the company has a fleet of 30 freezer trucks and will have more than 350 employees.

Rainforest stocks more than 500 stock-keeping units of seafood sourced globally, including mussels from New Zealand, salmon from Chile, squid from China, saltfish from Norway, mackerel from Spain, and herring from Canada.

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