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Scholar proposes hydroelectricity for Portland community

Published:Monday | October 31, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Kayton Martin (left), survey technician, and Dr Gary Jackson examining and discussing a document during a tour of the Swift River community in Portland. - photo by gareth davis

Gareth Davis, Gleaner Writer

SWIFT RIVER, Portland:

AT A time when consumers are faced with high electricity bills, Fulbright Nexus scholar Dr Gary Jackson is proposing the development of a small hydropower plant to generate electricity for the farming community of Swift River in Portland.

Dr Jackson, who is also executive director of Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC), an association of Caribbean utility companies which facilitates the development of electricity across the region, explains that the aim is to inform public policy using applied research.

"This is an initiative developed from the Department of States in the United States. It specifically deals with renewable energy, sustainable development, innovation, public health and economics.

"For this particular project, we are looking at a hydro development to generate electricity for the community that is adjacent to the resource. We have already identified our proposed power house area, where the generator set will be on the turbines to generate electricity from the water coming from up-stream," he added.

Dr Jackson, who is on the Fulbright Nexus Scholar Programme, funded by the US State Department, leaves the island today for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. He visited the community of Swift River on Thursday to conduct fieldwork.

He was accompanied by three community residents through the mountainous and rugged terrain of Chelsea near Swift River. The three residents acted as guides, while chopping their way through the thick vegetation of the forest; halted from time to time by outbreaks of showers, which forced the entire party, including The Gleaner news team, to seek shelter in a farmer's hut.

A long time coming

One member of the touring party, 62-year-old Sylvan Bell, who is also a resident of Chelsea, told The Gleaner that the hydro development project should have come on stream more than 30 years ago, but failed to get off the ground as a result of frequent changes of government.

"This programme first began in 1972. Back then, I was employed with a team out of Canada as a guide, and I distinctly remember that a helicopter delivered hundreds of building blocks, cement, and other material further up into the hills to start the project. But this time around, I am calling on the people in this community to come on board and to support this programme.

"We will be the real beneficiaries, and it is important to note that we are all under pressure as a result of high electricity bills from the power company, and this will assist us greatly," added.

Cooperation of all needed

Dr Jackson, who was later joined by a team of surveyors, pointed out that a critical component to the project is to have all the stakeholders including the community, National Water Commission, Jamaica Public Service Company, and the National Environment and Planning Agency, working together.

"It is going to be critical for all these agencies working together for the success of this project. I have already engaged in discussion with all the agencies involved. Construction will take anywhere between three to five years. I believe we should be able to acquire funding through the multilateral agencies, including the European Union and the Inter-American Development Bank. I have always looked at where the renewable energy resources for the country are in different areas.

"I realise that Portland has the highest rainfall islandwide, but no hydros. I thought it would be a good opportunity to see how much of this rainfall, that is captured in the watershed going into rivers, we could harness for energy."