(Jamaica Observer, Garfield Myers, 24.Dec.2018) — A leading executive in the renewable energy sector is urging electricity provider Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) to stay focused on improving efficiency and stop blaming renewable energy sources for outages.
Ava Tomlin, regional director, Jamaica, for renewable energy provider BMR Energy LLC, was responding to suggestions by JPS executives that frequent power outages in Santa Cruz in recent years and during the first 10 months of this year were caused by reliance on renewable sources.
BMR Energy, owned by the Richard Branson-led Virgin Group, operates a wind farm in Potsdam, Malvern, St Elizabeth which supplies the JPSCo grid.
Tomlin told the Jamaica Observer that abnormally high level of power cuts in Santa Cruz predated any reliance on renewable energy. In any case, she said, appropriate transmission and distribution mechanisms should have been installed to prevent the kind of instability experienced in Santa Cruz.
“The disruptions in Santa Cruz especially the very short disturbances have been occurring for over ten years,” said Tomlin, who worked two stints for JPSCo including a few years ago as regional manager for Manchester and St Elizabeth.
“This (power outage problem in Santa Cruz) has been occurring before (reliance on renewable energy) … probably even before Wigton (wind farm was opened in south Manchester in the early 2000s), certainly before BMR (wind farm in Malvern in 2016) and certainly before Content Solar (a large solar project in Clarendon opened in 2017),” she said.
The situation improved significantly in Santa Cruz in late 2018. Residents and business operators in the bustling, fast-growing town have experienced very few power outages in November and December.
Norval Bullock, JPSCo parish manager for St Elizabeth and Westmoreland, told the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation at its monthly meeting in November that a shift of load shedding from Santa Cruz to elsewhere meant the town would no longer suffer frequent power cuts.
Bullock also said that a major energy storage facility to “come on stream sometime next year” at Hunt’s Bay, St Andrew will, on a national scale, resolve load shedding issues such as have negatively affected Santa Cruz.
According to Tomlin, the frequent power cuts up to the end of October in Santa Cruz which caused significant inconvenience and losses for householders and business operators was because “JPS had Santa Cruz on a stage zero frequency which means it is the lowest priority when they are switching generators and so it drops out”.
She added that “renewables are used all over the world” without the problems experienced in Santa Cruz. That was because of proper transmission and distribution power systems in other countries, she said. “What we have to do as Jamaicans — between the utilities and everybody else — is to make sure that we have a sufficient and a more robust transmission and distribution system that will facilitate renewables and the integration of renewables, because renewables are the best and probably the most optimal way to lower the cost of energy and the cost of electricity to Jamaicans which is affecting manufacturing, it affects householders, it affects tourism…” she said.
Tomlin’s comments followed word from Bullock in November and before then, in April, from Winsome Callum, JPS's director of corporate communications, that the source of the problem in Santa Cruz was the reliance on renewable energy.
Bullock told the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation that: “… We have a massive (solar) plant in Clarendon but when there is cloud cover and that plant goes suddenly offline, we lose a significant chunk of generation. …Gas turbines have a little lag to come on stream to take up the load. To protect the system from such a condition we automatically shed specific loads.
“Unfortunately, Santa Cruz was connected to a feeder coming from Spur Tree and that was one of the feeders on that protection scheme. We have done some infrastructural work within the parish (St Elizabeth) and we have reconfigured our network, and I am happy to say Santa Cruz is now off that scheme and since September residents have seen improved reliability performance…”
In April, Callum had told the Observer by e-mail that “the renewable power plants (solar, wind, hydros) are susceptible to changes in weather and can become unavailable without notice…
“For example, when clouds pass over the solar plant in Clarendon we immediately lose the 20MW of power provided by this facility. This sudden drop in output results in a generation shortfall, causing power outages. The same thing happens when we lose the power provided by the wind farms located in St Elizabeth. There is usually a delay in the restoration of power because it takes a few minutes for the oil- and gas-fired generating units to be brought onto the grid to make up for the shortfall experienced when the renewables go offline…”
Like Bullock, Callum had pointed to major infrastructural projects which will bring stability to JPS service islandwide: a 24.5MW storage facility at Hunt's Bay, to provide back-up power and a 190MW LNG power plant being built in Old Harbour.
Tomlin applauded the JPS Hunt's Bay initiative, saying the storage plant should help to stabilise the power company’s electricity service. But she reiterated the need for improved transmission and distribution.
“We welcome this; Jamaica should welcome this. But what we also need as a country is significant improvement in our transmission and distribution system to make it more robust. …The world is going towards renewables, so should Jamaica, because we are a small island state that's most affected by climate change, and we spend certainly eight per cent of our GDP (gross domestic product) on [imported environmentally unfriendly] fossil fuels and we have to move away from that,” she said.
Tomlin said successive Jamaican governments should be applauded for their commitment to renewable energy solutions.
Last month, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness told a forum of the Organisation of American States in Washington, DC that the country was aiming for “50 per cent renewables in our energy mix by the year 2030.”