Tue | May 23, 2017

Content solar to connect with grid by 2016

Published:Wednesday | July 1, 2015 | 7:00 AM
A section of Highway 2000 with solar-powered street lights protected by circular rings of razor-sharp prongs to deter theft of the panels.

Robert Blenker, vice-president of the Florida-based WRB Enterprises Inc and director of Content Solar Limited, said Monday that the company is likely to require the entire lifetime of its current power supply agreement with the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) to recover the investment of US$62 million being made in a 20-megawatt grid-connected solar photovoltaic facility in Clarendon.

Content Solar, a wholly owned subsidiary of WRB Enterprises, which is touted to undertake the largest installation of its kind in the Caribbean, promises to provide energy for 20,000 residential users.

The company will be paid $0.1880 per kilowatt-hour for the power it will sell to the JPS over a 20-year contract period awarded by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR).

The supply contract will commence from the date of the commercial operation, Blenker clarified.

Said Blenker: "Utility investments typically have a very long payback. The project will require its entire contract to realise the total expected return."

The OUR had initially sought bids for the supply of 115 megawatts of power. However, the agency ended up striking deals for 78 megawatts of renewables with three different suppliers, including WRB.

WRB-Content's photovoltaic generation project will install 98,000 panels at Content Village in Clarendon.

The company on Monday finalised agreement with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the United States government's development finance institution, for a US$47-million loan which forms part of the project financing.

no local partners

Blenker said the remaining costs, approximately US$15 million, will be raised from equity, for a total project cost of approximately US$62 million.

Jamaicans now pay on average of US$0.32 cents per kilowatt-hour for energy from the JPS. Power from Content is expected to displace more than three million gallons of fossil fuel currently burnt each year.

Blenker said the project will be constructed on approximately 159 acres which form part of a 300-acre site. "While we have commenced construction, official ground breaking will take place on July 9, 2015," he said.

"COD (commercial operations) are scheduled for early second quarter 2016, although we hope to compress our schedule," he added.

Blenker said that as many as 300 people should be employed during construction, but operations will be limited to approximately 20 people.

The director said that WRB has no local partners. "JPS has no ownership in Content Solar Limited. Content Solar is a wholly-owned subsidiary of WRB Enterprises of Tampa, Florida," he said.

Blenker said the company is currently eyeing other opportunities in the field of energy in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

WRB currently operates the public electric utility for Grenada, where it provides fully integrated electrical services - power generation, distribution, metering, and billing - to tens of thousands of residents and businesses. WRB also operate the power systems in Grand Turks and Dominica.

Blenker said "WRB is definitely interested in additional opportunities in Jamaica. We are currently focused on mature renewable technologies such as wind, solar and small hydro. In terms of other activities in the Caribbean, we are working to put renewables online in Grenada (solar, geothermal and wind), where we operate the utility."

He added that "we are also actively pursuing opportunities elsewhere in the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America, in tandem with WRB Serra Capital Partners, a committed equity fund".

Future projects, he said, are likely to have profiles similar to Content Solar - "wind, solar and small hydro - where we are able to deploy equity and debt in a meaningful way to move power generation in a more sustainable direction."

On Monday, chairman and chief executive officer of WRB, G. Robert Blanchard, signed the agreement alongside OPIC Chief of Staff John Morton, with Jamaica's minister of science, technology, energy and mining, Phillip Paulwell, and US Ambassador to Jamaica, Luis G. Moreno officiating.

Content Solar project is now the second OPIC-financed project in support of the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, a US-government effort announced by Vice-president Joe Biden in June 2014.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com