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In search of cheaper energy

Britain funds training laboratory at Wigton windfarm

Garfield Myers

Monday, February 10, 2014    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — For Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, a planned British-funded training laboratory at the Wigton wind farm complex in Rose Hill, Manchester, is one more step in the long, hard drive towards competitive energy costs for Jamaicans.

Wigton Windfarm, which is a subsidiary of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) recently received a grant of $4.8 million from the British High Commission to finance the facility.

The grant will fund the installation of a solar panel roof for the lab and the purchase of a small wind turbine. Both the roof and the wind turbine will be used for teaching and demonstration under Wigton's renewable energy training programme.

Paulwell said the "establishment of the lab is certainly in keeping with the mandate to the PCJ and to Wigton to ... focus on renewables" in the drive to reduce energy costs.

Paulwell said the training facility will help "to ensure that we have the appropriate facilities that can train our people to enable us to better utilise the high technology that we are being exposed to".

Placing the facility in the context of Jamaica's oil bill of well in excess of US$2 billion, which analysts agree has severely hindered economic growth, Paulwell reiterated that the country had no choice but to cut costs.

"We have to get electricity prices down to between 15 and 18 US cents (per kilowatt hour [kWh]) if we are going to be competitive" in the global marketplace, he said. He noted that costs are currently 40-42 US cents per kWh.

In the drive to move away from expensive fossil fuels, "renewables" such as solar and wind would be an important part of the mix with other energy sources, Paulwell said.

"We are quite clear that we have to abolish the use of liquids, heavy fuel oil and diesel and that is a policy decision that has been taken," said Paulwell. "It can't happen overnight, but we are going to move away from the use of liquids to produce electricity and we will be moving to incorporate gas, the LNG project, solids. But the tremendous focus of this Government will be on renewables to get our prices down and, very importantly, to save on foreign exchange," said Paulwell.

Paulwell expressed pride at the continued expansion of capacity at the Wigton Windfarm and looked forward to the signing of a "power purchase agreement between Wigton and the (electricity provider) Jamaica Public Service Company that will enable you to establish a further 24 megawatts of wind capacity for a total of 63 megawatts ..."

A release from the PCJ reported Wigton's chairman, Ian Kelly, as emphasising the national goal of "increasing renewable energy input from where it stands now, at less than 10%, to as much as 30% by 2030".

To do this, Kelly said "we will need technicians, service providers and numerous other professionals who have training and expertise in this area. I am therefore very grateful to the British Government for providing this support so we can begin offering the rigorous training that is necessary for our local renewable energy industry to flourish".

British High Commissioner to Jamaica David Fitton said the grant would "not only help Wigton, will not only help Jamaica in the future, but will help, in an indirect way, the UK too, as we all strive for ways to explore a renewable future".

The construction and installation work at the new lab is expected to be completed in two months. Wigton says it plans to begin offering extensive training in renewable energy by mid-2015.

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