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Power in the water - Government looks to hydroelectricity as search intensifies for cheaper light bills

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Young Men use sticks to remove debris from the rising Rio Cobre near Flat Bridge. - File

Arthur Hall, Senior News Editor

The Government seems set to spend just over US$1 million to conduct yet another study on the possibility of using the country's rivers to generate more electricity despite the many studies already done.

The National Contracts Commission last December approved a US$1.21 million (J$104m) consultancy contract to an Italian firm to provide hydropower pre-feasibility and feasibility studies at five sites across the island.

The five sites are the Rio Cobre in St Catherine, the Martha Brae River in Trelawny, Morgan's River in St Thomas, the Spanish River in Portland and the Negro River also in St Thomas.

The contract is yet to be finalised, but sources say the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) should announce the signing shortly.

Hydroelectricity generation has long been suggested for Jamaica, which is dubbed the 'land of wood and water'.

But several tests have confirmed that the country lacks the potential for large-scale hydroelectricity generation.

In 2008, the PCJ reported that some 23.8-megawatts (MW) of power was then installed across the island with the potential for about another 100 MW.

At that time, the PCJ said Jamaica's hydroelectric potential could be further exploited through the construction of a number of small-scale plants.

But the PCJ warned that hydropower schemes have high capital costs, and are sensitive to the high interest-rate regimes which could prohibit private investment in hydropower ventures.

Almost three years ago, the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS) put its first hydroplant back into service, spending US$1 million to add 0.77 megawatt of capacity to the grid.

Sitting idle since 2001, the facility, located at the National Water Commission's (NWC) treatment plant at Long Lane in St Andrew, is being operated under joint agreement between JPS and NWC.

The plant is powered by the waters of the Hermitage Dam, as well as the Wag Water and Boar rivers; diverted through turbines before being returned to the NWC treatment area.

The JPS now reports that it operates eight hydroplants with work under way on a ninth plant.

Late last year, the company announced that preparatory work had started on the construction of the second Maggotty Hydroelectric Power Plant in St Elizabeth.

That plant is expected to add just over six megawatts to the national grid upon completion in November.

A statement from the company said it had committed US$33 million to the building of the new plant - the largest single investment in the hydropower sector.

Maggoty was also the site of the first hydroelectricity plan in Jamaica. This was set up in 1966.

Last week, the JPS said the entire wooden structure which carried water to the original Maggotty Hydro Power Plant has been removed and new pipe support structures and glass reinforced polyester pipelines are being prepared.

According to the company, it is on target to meet the November deadline.