BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor at Large South/Central Bureau email@example.com
PAROTTEE, St Elizabeth — The joyful effervescence of the Black River High School Choir drew laughter and applause.
"Bye, bye JPS", they sang, waving theatrically to an imaginary figure in the distance.
The school choir and others at the Kholov residence at Parottee just outside the St Elizabeth parish capital, Black River, were celebrating their hosts' departure from the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) electricity grid, thanks to a mix of wind and solar energy applications.
"We didn't expect this much attention," Dr Eugene Kholov, a Russian-born, Canadian orthodontist, told the large gathering in the front yard of his house, just down the road from the Idlers' Rest Beach Hotel.
He claimed that all he and his Jamaican wife Michelle had ever wanted to do when they invested in wind and solar to energise their five-bedroom house was "to become energy self-sufficient".
But, he said, it was good "that having done this project we have inspired others to at least consider such opportunities..."
A buoyant Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell was among those who trekked from Kingston to be part of the event, claiming it was further evidence that "our country has caught on to the (renewable energy) vision we have as a government..."
Paulwell has himself departed the JPS grid, investing $2 million in solar panel energy generation to power his home in Kingston. The minister claims that having said his personal goodbye to JPS, he will recover his investment cost in five years with electricity savings.
The Kholovs have spent far more on what is being described as the biggest residential system of the kind in the Caribbean. Kholov told journalists that the hybrid wind and solar system at his house cost in excess of US$150,000.
But according to the man responsible for installing the system, Milton Miller, CEO of the renewable energy company ConserveIT, the Kholovs — who admit to being high-end energy users — will, like Paulwell, recover their money in five years.
"It's a high demand house, he (Kholov) was here for two weeks in February and his JPS bill was $120,000," explained Miller.
He said the mix of wind and solar generation — complete with a towering wind mill and an array of solar panels — at the Kholovs' house has a capacity of 164 KW daily. That provides for a "total avoidable cost" from JPS every month in excess of $150,000, Miller said. It allows for battery storage for two days in the "unlikely" event there is simultaneously no wind and solar available.
Miller said the Kholov system was designed to "match" hurricane force winds of 150 miles per hour and would require minimal maintenance costs.
Miller, Kholov and Paulwell all claimed the costs of renewables were coming down, pushed by the aggressive stance of the Obama Administration in the United States in favour of alternative and renewable energy technologies.
While conceding that the capital cost for the Kholovs had been high, Miller revealed that his company now had "a system" costing $750,000 "which can generate 160 KW per month, to support your average household... fridge, light, television and security system..."
Among those impressed by the "open house" at the Kholovs' residence was their neighbour Courtney Hamilton of Idler's Rest. Having seen and heard, Hamilton says his hotel will now be seeking to emulate, if it is at all possible.
"For us we will certainly look into doing the same thing as Dr Eugene has done," he told the Jamaica Observer Central. "Of course our facility is not just a house, it is more of a boutique hotel where we have rooms in addition to a conference centre. We have to look at it from a different vantage point, but certainly it is under consideration. The JPS bill at Idler's Rest is quite expensive, so if we can come off the bill any at all it would be to our advantage."
That's music to the ears for Paulwell who told journalists he envisions an increasing move towards renewables by "residences", with large businesses and heavy industries relying more on energy sources that can "supply substantial load". That philosophy had driven the People's National Party Government's decision to target 30 per cent of energy generation via renewables up from the previous short-term target of 20 per cent.
"From the outset I recognised that the policy of achieving 20 per cent of energy output from renewables was not ambitious enough and immediately I convinced the Cabinet to change that to 30 per cent. But to achieve 30 per cent is going to require far more than the Kholovs have achieved here in Parottee," Paulwell said.
He told journalists that solar photovoltaic panelling for his home had originated in Cuba and he would be visiting that country soon "to see if they can assist us in establishing a plant in Jamaica to manufacture (solar products)".
The minister said he would also be "inviting the private sector in Jamaica to look at the opportunities for manufacture of solar panels in Jamaica", given that tax "incentives" will result in "more and more Jamaicans" going solar.
In that respect, he said, the Government remained committed to the development of the LNG project, with serious consideration being given to coal and "even nuclear" over the long term as the country strives to move away from ultra-expensive petroleum.
He reiterated his call for the JPS, which has an electrical grid monopoly in Jamaica, to embrace the drive towards competition, cost-reduction and greater efficiency in the energy industry.
"We are saying to JPSCo, let us sit down, try to understand and accept that we cannot continue like this anymore," said Paulwell. "Let us look at the new sources for fuel but let us also look at the proposals that we need to introduce competition that will enable everybody to participate and enable JPS to become far more efficient as a business," he said.
Otherwise, he suggested, the JPS could lose out, as more and more Jamaicans find innovative ways to depart the electricity grid.