Editorial

Energy: Cool wind and warm sun not just for tourists

Wednesday, September 12, 2012    

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JAMAICA is blessed to be refreshed and cooled all year by winds mostly coming in from the Caribbean Sea. Yet we make virtually no use of the potential for wind generated energy.

Today, Jamaica gets 95 per cent of its energy from imported oil and 0.1 per cent from wind. Wind-generated energy accounts for less than charcoal and fuel-wood, which account respectively for 0.6 per cent and 1.9 per cent. Solar energy our most abundant and inexhaustible energy source provides mostly hot water in some hotels, hospitals and private homes. Solar energy helps in a small way to save on electricity and imported oil.

This is almost exactly where the country was when the first oil crisis of the early 1970s tripled the bill for imported oil in a one-year period, terminating the economic growth of the 1960s and igniting the implosion of the Jamaican economy from which it has never recovered.

The need to finance the oil import bill which kept escalating with each rapacious increase by the merciless oil producers is the root cause of our external debt. Given the dependence on oil and the cost to the economy it was reasonable to expect all the Governments since the mid 1970s to make reducing dependence on oil a priority.

If diversification from oil to alternative energy sources was a priority, nothing meaningful has been done about it. We contend that the objective of developing alternative energy sources has never been seriously and consistently pursued. The explanation for this manifest failure lies in the willingness for self-delusion by means of hoped-for panaceas.

The first panacea was that there is oil and/or gas in the offshore waters of Jamaica. This figment of optimistic geologists has made the rounds several times. Next panacea was coal, which is plentiful and relatively cheap from many sources across the world. This has been mooted ad nauseam with a different proposed supplier each time ranging from Colombia to China. The latest miracle solution is LNG which members of the Portia Simpson Miller Administration seem disagree on in their public statements.

While we are waiting to get to the long Promised Land, Jamaica must move aggressively on two alternative sources of energy which are local and inexhaustible. These are solar and wind; with the former as a means of saving on imported oil and the latter as a means of reducing dependence on oil and reducing the cost of generating electricity. No one disagrees that lower electricity costs would be good for consumers, producers and exporters.

To date, Jamaica has developed only one of several coastal sites suitable for wind-generated energy. This successful Wigton Windfarm is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica located in Manchester, a parish with two other suitable but undeveloped sites.

We suggested that the Members of Parliament give up generating hot air in Gordon House and take a trip in a single bus (avoid 63 SUVs making the trip), tour the Wigton Windfarm and learn what the cool breeze of the Caribbean can do. If they understand the benefits of wind we will, hopefully, have less hot air on energy, less energy devoted to ventilating and more energy put into implementation.

Jamaica is a land with limited wood and water, but it is a land of unlimited wind and sun. The cool breeze and the warm sun are not just there for tourists.

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