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Solar farm to bring 400 jobs to Content Village

Published:Thursday | July 9, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton

SOME 400 jobs are to be created in Content Village, Clarendon, over the next year, during the construction phase of a 20 megawatt solar-energy plant.

Robert Blenker, president and CEO of WRB Energy, which is undertaking the US$60-million project, told The Gleaner the jobs to be created will range from highly skilled engineering jobs all the way down to labourers.

"The bulk of them will be low to moderately skilled jobs, or jobs for which we can train people to do work such as running cables and so on," he told The Gleaner.

The post-construction phase will see the employment of 20 people.

The United States' government's finance institution, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), through a US$47-million loan agreement, is the major financial backer behind the project, which will see 91,800 photovoltaic panels erected on 160 acres of land. The project is, among other things, expected to lead to a reduction of three million gallons in imported fuel each year.

"Without the credit facility from OPIC, we wouldn't be here today," Blenker said.

push for energy security

Elizabeth Martinez, chargé  d'affaires at the United States Embassy, noted that the partnership with WMB is part of a US government's push to have clean-energy projects in the Caribbean as part of a push to boost the region's energy security.

"As the US government's development finance institution, OPIC's involvement is yet another concrete example of the US government's strong support for Jamaica, particularly the renewable energy sector," she said.

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In addition to the US$47 million for the solar farm, OPIC is providing US$42 for a new wind farm being developed in St Elizabeth.

Three energy projects are slated to be undertaken this year, which carry a combined price tag of $20 billion Jamaican.

"It is very important for development because there are people who want to get involved in many projects but are not doing so because of the price of electricity. This will also help the manufacturing sector," Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said yesterday.

The prime minister thanked the US Government for the OPIC facility and said that WRB enterprise has demonstrated confidence in the Government and the economy by embarking on the project.

"We do not intend to forever remain hostage to imported fossil fuel and all the challenges that it brings. At the end of last year, Jamaica's oil import bill exceeded the value of our export of goods by over 118 per cent. We imported more than 20.5 million barrels of oil at a cost of US$2 billion, representing 11.6 per cent of our GDP," the prime minister said.

The electricity sector accounts for 32.4 of total oil imports and is the second-largest oil consumer after transport.

"More renewable energy to the power grid will help us to reduce our energy costs," the prime minister said.