Wind energy in Jamaica: Wigton wind farm earns $500 million

Wigton eind farm is very profitable, government and company officials have said.

It’s not just that the Wigton Wind farm in Manchester is helping to gradually reduce Jamaica’s oil bill while producing “clean” energy.


Also, from Energy minister Phillip Paulwell’s perspective, it flies in the face of those who say State-owned entities don’t make money.

“The good news I want to share with you is that this is a profitable government venture. This year we are earning $500 million in the operations at Wigton,” Paulwell boasted last Friday.

He was speaking at the ground breaking ceremony for Wigton III, a 24MW expansion plant, just under a mile away from the existing 38.7MW windfarm complex at windswept Rose Hill in South Manchester.

As later explained to journalists by chairman of Wigton Windfarm, Ian Kelly, the $500 million profit was for the first nine months of the financial year. A subsidiary of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), the windfarm currently embraces Wigton I which was commissioned in 2004 to provide 20.7 MW and the 18MW Wigton II established in 2010.

The expectation is that Wigton III will not only accelerate the production of cheap wind energy and chip away at Jamaica’s US$2 billion annual oil bill but further boost profitability.

The work on Wigton III will be carried out by Spanish wind energy company Gamesa under a US$45 million contract. Eighty per cent of the funding is coming from the preferential Venezuela/Caribbean oil alliance, Petro Caribe with 20 per cent from Wigton equity, planners say.

Construction is scheduled to begin in April with commissioning projected for February 2016, though Paulwell made it clear Friday that he expected the project to be completed this year.

Planners say that when Wigton III is completed, the 62.7 MW produced by the windfarm will increase renewable energy input to the national grid by more than two per cent. It’s projected to reduce Jamaica’s oil consumption by 37,000 barrels annually and lessen greenhouse gas pollution triggered by fossil fuel use.

To emphasise the effectiveness of wind energy thus far, Kelly said that “in the last 10 years, we (Wigton) have saved Jamaica almost J$3 billion by providing an alternative to imported fuels”.

And, speakers at Friday’s ceremony including Paulwell, said the wind energy plant expansion at Rose Hill was another step towards the goal of achieving the government’s renewable energy target of 30 per cent by 2030.

But the minister emphasised that to achieve that goal, investment in renewables would have to be stepped up. In fact, he later told journalists, investments would have to be trebled.

That intent, Paulwell said, was already in train with the planned launch later this week of a 34 MW wind plant in the hills of Malvern in St Elizabeth. That project is being done by the United States-backed joint venture BMR Energy.

And according to Paulwell, “shortly thereafter” he will be breaking ground for the construction of a 20 Megawatts solar farm, the “single largest solar establishment in the English speaking Caribbean” in Content, Clarendon. That too will be funded US investment interests, the minister said.

Paulwell said that the three renewable projects in quick succession will amount to US$200 million in new investments.

He hailed renewable energy production by small private operators mainly through solar photovoltaic technology. Paulwell said that he had signed 291 licences for net billing arrangements “where Jamaicans are now able to sell excess energy that they produce to the national grid”. So far, “they are generating just about three megawatts of capacity on solar,” he said.

Paulwell reiterated that the government’s drive towards building the renewable energy sector was part of a conscious determination to reduce the oil bill and at the same time protect the environment.

“The question is asked ‘why are we so aggressive? why are we pursuing renewables? why are we behaving like evangelicals? … and the reasons are quite substantial and we are seeing those reasons unfolding before our eyes,” he said.

“Jamaica now utilises fossil fuels as its primary source of electricity — over 90 per cent in the form of fossil fuels which is imported. It costs us about US$2 billion every year to import fossil fuels and that is unsustainable … and we are doing no good to the environment,” he said.

Paulwell said he expected the growth in renewables to strengthen profits from the trade of carbon credits to heavily industrialised countries. Over a 10-year period Wigton earned J$200 million from carbon credits mainly traded to Europe. Under the carbon credits’ arrangement, enterprises with projects which lower carbon emissions can trade those credits to others for cash.

Paulwell said he had issued instructions for Jamaica to bid to host a proposed CARICOM centre of excellence with Wigton — said to be the largest initiative of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean — as the epicentre.