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Bright future ahead - Groundbreaking for solar power plant today

Published:Thursday | July 9, 2015 | 7:00 AMCorey Robinson

Robert Blenker, president and CEO of the Florida-based WRB Energy, says he is confident about the success of a 20 megawatt solar PV generation facility, for which ground is scheduled to be broken in Content, Clarendon, today.

The construction of the power plant is one of three projects awarded as part of the Office of Utilities Regulations' (OUR) 115 megawatt tender for renewable-energy generation, and will cost approximately US$61 million. The facility will be operated by Content Solar Limited, a subsidiary of WRB Enterprises Inc, explained Blenker.

"Jamaica is not without its challenges, but we look for legal and regulatory stability, respect for rule of law, a plan when it comes to economic and fiscal policies, and a sound utility with which we can work. Overall, it is a vibrant economy. Some of the right ingredients that we look for are in Jamaica," said Blenker, speaking in an exclusive interview with The Gleaner yesterday.

"I think the ingredients are there for a very promising future. Jamaica's performance in the IMF (International Monetary Fund) process is admirable, and I think the process that is currently under way suggests that there will be a positive outcome. So the ingredients are there for Jamaica to be quite successful. We want to be part of that," he said.

According to the CEO, the energy from the solar plant will be able to power more than 20,000 households, and should add to the energy on the Jamaica Public Service's (JPS) existing distribution grid for at least 20 years.

The project falls within Jamaica's target of having 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020, he said.

The groundbreaking ceremony represents the culmination of three years of work to ensure that the project was well designed, well placed, and compatible with Jamaica, continued Blenker.

"What we are doing is displacing fuel that Jamaica has to import. We will be providing fixed-price power for 20 years for the amount that we generate, which is significant," noted Blenker.

"What's hard for people is not only the price of power but the volatility in the price of power. When you get your electricity bill, one of the hardest things for one to do is predict your bill for next month. We are providing an opportunity to do that," he said, noting that this means the cost of the electricity will remain at a fixed rate despite inflation rates.

 

Community buy-in

 

Asked about concerns regarding the security of the plant, Blenker responded: "We work with the community to make the project theirs. Clearly, they are not equity owners in the project, but they should be proud that the largest installed solar project in the Caribbean is occurring in their parish." He said.

The company will be looking to employ persons from the community to fill most of the some 300 positions needed for construction of the plant. Construction is slated to run for 10 months but Blenker said it could take up to a year.

He emphasised that there will be limited disruption of the environment and Jamaica's natural resources during construction, explaining that both local and international environmental standards have been observed in proportion for the start of construction.

WRB Enterprises Inc is a closely held private company with deep roots in the Caribbean. It has owned and operated electrical generation and utility assets in the Caribbean since the early 1980s, and currently operates the public electric utility for Grenada. It also operates power systems in Grand Turk and Dominica.