A positively disruptive company, led by a positively disruptive man. A description befitting of Wayne McKenzie's journey in the power-generating sector in Jamaica, which first started when he joined Jamaica Energy Partners in the mid-1990s as a fresh-faced engineer.
"I personally started in 1996 with Jamaica Energy Partners. At that time we only had one asset, which is a Doctor Bird [Power] Barge [in Old Harbour, St Catherine], which is a 74-megawatt barge," McKenzie, who is the president and CEO of Jamaica Energy Partners and country manager for InterEnergy Jamaica, told the Jamaica Observer. The barge was built in 1995, one year after the explosion at the power station operated by the Jamaica Public Service Company in Old Harbour, St Catherine.
His portfolio responsibilities are Jamaica Energy Partners, West Kingston Power Partners, Jamaica Private Power Company, and EverGo Jamaica, all of which are subsidiaries of InterEnergy, a power company with assets in Jamaica, Panama, Dominican Republic, Chile, Uruguay, and Mexico. InterEnergy's chairman is Roland Gonzalez-Bunster, a US-Argentine. As for the company itself, it is based in the US but also has registered offices in Spain and England.
"InterEnergy has had this relationship with Jamaica in the power market from 2006 and Gonzalex-Bunster has been involved with Jamaica from a different life," McKenzie said without expanding.
"Jamaica Energy Partners was initially owned by some investors. InterEnergy bought the asset in 2006 and sold it, then bought it again in 2012 and has been operating it since," McKenzie recalled.
During all that time, and five years after joining the company, McKenzie has operated as its head, seeing the company through transitions, including acquiring competitors and expanding into new areas, such as electric mobility charging through EverGo Jamaica.
"When I became president in 2001, we added the 51 megawatt [at a power plant we call] Doctor Bird II. Then an RFP [request for proposal for the addition of new generating capacity] came out in 2006 and we participated in that bid and we won the bid to provide 66 megawatts of generation, which became West Kingston Power Partners. Then, in 2019, we bought Jamaica Private Power Company," he reflected on the growth of the company in the power generating space. Altogether, the four power plants produce about 250 megawatt of electricity for the grid, which amounts to roughly 21 per cent of the total.
Two years after that, InterEnergy launched its e-mobility charging network in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica joined that group shortly after with a soft launch in April 2020 supported by the Government of Jamaica.
"At that time the country was expressing its focus on greening and decarbonisation, and electric mobility was being touted as one of the solutions."
But the vision was long term and had to be, given that there were very few electric vehicles in Jamaica and even at the launch the vehicles presented were mostly hybrids rather than full electric vehicles. Now the picture has improved but is still woefully low, with just over 100 full electric vehicles on the road.
But McKenzie, who when he became president, "was the youngest local person in charge of an energy company", after being tapped for the top job at 31 years old, has led more than an energy revolution and also focused on the people in the organisation.
"We had expats managing the assets at the time," he recalled. "One of the thing I did was to present a business case where locals could not only manage the assets but operate them as well. So we did a transition two years after that to a 100 per cent Jamaican labour force. So the company since 2003 has been operating and being managed by a 100 per cent Jamaican labour force," he said. The company operates with 300 staff.
"The other thing that we did was to train up our staff. We created some relationships with Caribbean Maritime University [which, at the time, was Caribbean Maritime Institute] to train our staff there and then hire them."
The training of staff, which was made up mostly of high school graduates, was extended to other institutions, such as The University of the West Indies and the University of Technology, Jamaica.
"After that we train up our staff to do what you call major overhauls. These are very technical maintenance activities. So we sent our staff to other countries, such as Finland, some went to the states to learn about the turbochargers and to learn about the engines, and right now we have a full compliment of engineers who do all the major overhauls for the group."
McKenzie said critical in helping the company win the bid to build the West Kingston Power Partners plant because in addition to engineering training, "we expose all the guys to financial modelling and project development. Again, we did West Kington with very limited expat intervention in the modelling and also financing".
He said that was the first time local commercial banks were financing an electric power development project in Jamaica.
"This company was made commercial operational in 2012. Some of the banks financing were NCB [National Commercial Bank], CIBC, we have Sagicor on board now. They were, in my mind, the pioneers of investing in the power business, and now we have many others, including pension funds.
"West Kington was one such project, and I can tell you that [building out] West Kingston [Power Partners] was my pride and joy because even civil works were done by locals. You know, the dredging was local, the piling and designs were local, every single thing. It just shows the expertise that Jamaica has."
Having done that though, McKenzie said he is turning his attention to the Caribbean. His portfolio responsibility extends to taking the power business, on behalf his parent company InterEnergy, to the English-speaking Caribbean. Jamaica is now the only English-speaking country where InterEnergy operates power plants.
"So our local guys are really the project developers who are focused on exploring power generation in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Cayman Islands, and any of the other island in which English is spoken."
While he name-dropped several islands, he refused to say if projects are near fruition in any. McKenzie, however, said the company is exploring whether to purchase power plants or build them from the ground up, while also looking at opportunities to bring the EverGo brand to those countries as well.
But asked about his proudest moments on the job, McKenzie said it was the company's social responsibility.
"InterEnergy is one of those positively disruptive companies. It wears many lenses, and I've been given a mandate to do what I see as beneficial, not just to the group itself, but also to the country. I mean, as an engineering company, as an electric company, one thing that you would expect us to focus philanthropic efforts on are things that are biased towards engineering, and that's not the case."
"So we spend an average every single year on average of between $12 and $15 million on scholarships, and these scholarships are given to students who have applied to many vocations, from journalism to engineering. We give scholarships to stuents who have matriculated and are applying themselves in teaching, dentistry, engineering, medicine, and nursing. I mean, you name it."
He said some of these former students volunteer their time when the company has its annual health fairs. The company also spends money providing meals for students in six basic schools, particularly in West Kingston.
"Another significant thing that we do is, we have a casual programme within what we call our social impact area that we work and that is say our five mile radius within where each plant is located. With that programme we work with the community in giving rotating employment to the persons in those communities. So with the recommendation from a justice of the peace or the police and so on, names are submitted to us and we employ them in doing things like cleaning the engines, cleaning the yard, etc, and we rotate them so that everybody gets a chance to earn something."
McKenzie said from these earnings some of the community members start micro enterprises, and the work has also seen him being recognised nationally for philanthropic contribution to nation-building.
But turning back to the operations of the company itself, McKenzie said big things are coming.
"On the cusp on Jamaica Energy Partners 20th anniversary in 2016, the chairman, Roland Gonzalez-Bunster, he came and one of the things that he said was he wanted to have a clean environment for his kids and his grandkids. One mandate that he gave was for us to look at transformation to clean and green [energy production in Jamaica]. That started in the Dominican Republic and Panama. In Panama we have one of the largest wind farms in Latin America and the Caribbean. It's 250 megawatts of wind farm. So we're very, very green there. We had one thermal plant there. In the Dom Rep, they have thermal plants like what we have [which burns heavy fuel oil], but they're actually doing the conversion of their assets to gas and it's something that we're exploring as well to convert our existing asset to gas, and we have been having discussions with the Government regarding this."
He, however, acknowledge that converting the power plants in Jamaica to use gas is not a simple process. "We need a lot of approval from governments and agencies, so it's not simple."
"We want to change the landscape in Jamaica, and InterEnergy can supply its own gas so wherever we chase power projects, we will be looking to provide the fuel as well."
"We wanted to do more than that and so we are looking at the e-mobility space because transportation, outside of power generation, is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. So we're not in the manufacturing business for cars, but we can certainly support the cars when they get here in providing the energy.
That support will see the company increasing its EV charging stations from the current 50 to 300 by the end of 2024.
The company is also looking at the provisions of home chargers that not only charge your car, but also help to manage your energy usage at home.
Now looking back after 21 years leading Jamaica Energy Partners, McKenzie said he is proud of the work he has been able to do, facilitated by staff and the board.
"I have one of the best management teams I could ever ask for. Again, you know, I'm a pro national. I wear all passport on my sleeve, and I really appreciate the fact that the group allows us to do what we want to do. And I'm also appreciative of the group allowing us to excel as a company.
"We have grown from 74 megawatts to 250 megawatts. That's significant. We have grown from being managed by expats to a 100 per cent local labour force. That's significant for me. We have transitioned from having institutional funding to funding from our commercial banks. It creates less burden on the country and also demonstrates how mature the Jamaican market has been over the years. I have seen where, when similar projects are being done, investors would have asked for government guarantees and even revenues and we are doing mega projects and there are absolutely no requests for government guarantees simply because the marketplace is mature.