Click here to print page

Off the grid - St Mary man turns to wind energy

Produces own power following back-billing saga

BY ALESIA EDWARDS Observer staff reporter alesiae@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CHARLES TOWN, St Mary — Over the last five years, St Mary resident and retired businessman, Paul Chong has invested over $5 million in an energy supply system for his residence.

He was prompted to invest in his own power system following the passage of Hurricane Dean that downed power lines and left him without electricity for several weeks.

"Where I live, all the major places had got back power and it took them (Jamaica Public Service) over two months to put back in our line. I decided I needed to do something about that, so I bought a solar system," Chong explained during a recent interview at his home in the parish.

But a bad experience with the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has since prompted him to come off the public power supply grid altogether. Chong explained that over the years, he had no intention of becoming totally independent of JPS although he generates all the electricity he needs himself.

However, he changed his mind last month after the light and power company disconnected his electricity for non-payment of an amount for which he had been back-billed.

Chong said that the company back-billed him for the first three months of the year, citing a defective meter, which it claimed had not been recording his correct consumption.

Chong said he was informed of the faulty meter through a letter dated June 3, which also said that his bills for the months of January to March had been adjusted to reflect any inaccuracies.

"My meter read 71 kilowatts and they said they have amended it to read 222 kilowatts for that month (March), so the difference for that month was about $5,000," Chong said.

He explained that it was a similar situation for February and January, where he was backed-billed for using 201 and 215 kilowatts respectively.

His previous bills had shown that he had used 102 and 166 kilowatts respectively for the period in question.

Chong said he contacted JPS, but was informed that the readings from the new meters were accurate and he had to pay the outstanding amount of $9,890.79.

"It's not really a large figure, but it is the principle behind it. You can't just tell a customer that the old meter was faulty and then back-bill them like that," Chong said, adding that he was never given an opportunity to have the old meter investigated.

Chong said ever since he has invested in his own power supply system, JPS had become more of a backup and that his usage had always been low. He said he would continue to protest by remaining off JPS's line until the company does the right thing.

"I'm just leaving it for JPS to do what is right... I believe they should give me a credit on my account," Chong said as he questioned the methodology used by to back-bill customers.

"I didn't think anything was wrong with it (old meter), is only JPS come in and said they are changing out all the old meters," Chong added.

This is why, although he admits that an alternative power system can be costly, it is a good investment and something he wants other homeowners and business people to consider.

"When there is a power cut, I don't know about it, because everything is on the system and we don't have fluctuating power," Chong pointed out.

Managing director of Alternative Power Sources, Damian Lyn explained that Chong does not need to use the power supplied by JPS, not even as a backup.

The St Mary resident invested in a hybrid wind and solar power system, which when combined, generates approximately 12.7 kilowatt hours of electricity (KWH) daily.

Chong installed three Sky Scream wind turbines that produce a total capacity of approximately 7.5 KWH. Additionally, he has a smaller turbine called a Whisper that produces 1 kilowatt, and a 24-panel solar power system that has the capacity to produce approximately 4.2 kilowatts.

"He can and has been producing all the power he needs ever since he came off JPS's system," explained Lyn, whose company helped Chong to set up the system.

Lyn explained, too, that in addition to the wind and solar energy generators, Chong has installed a 32-400 ham power battery backup system that helps him to store some of the energy he generates.

Meanwhile, Lyn explained that more Jamaicans are becoming aware of the importance of having alternative energy especially when so many are faced with huge electricity bills. He said there are many great benefits from having alternative power for homes or businesses and he pointed out that one of the greatest benefits is that it significantly reduces an individual's dependency of power from JPS.

"The system can be designed, and is designed, to be modular, which means you could start with (something) very simple as just running two light bulbs in your house and grow the system overtime," Lyn explained.

"So, this is something that you don't have to worry to find a lot of money to invest in right away."

Lyn said his company offers affordable starter packages that can cost as low as $150,000 and which can generate some 0.43 KWH daily.

"Once you install this system and you switch the breaker, you start to save on your electricity bill right away," Lyn said enough power can also be stored in a battery operated back-up system should there be any eventualities," said Lyn.