The BMR Jamaica Wind is the largest private sector renewable energy project in the country. © BMR Energy LLC
Heather Murray, headmistress at Hampton School, an all-girls academy in western Jamaica, dreams of building a state-of-the-art science lab for her students. But instead of investing in education, she spends about a quarter of her school’s budget just to keep the lights on. In fact, the high price of electricity recently threatened to close the 160-year-old institution.
“The amount we pay for light is unbelievable,” Murray says. “That’s money I could put into science, classrooms, an auditorium. There’s so many things I would do if I could save even half that money.”
Students aren’t the only Jamaicans who pay the price. Prohibitive electricity rates burden businesses and citizens throughout the country, which relies on oil imports to meet 90 percent of its energy needs. This leaves the nation at the mercy of fluctuating oil prices that can make it difficult to budget and plan effectively.
To ease its dependence on imported oil, Jamaica has set an ambitious target: generate 30 percent of its energy from local renewable sources, such as hydro, wind and solar power, by 2030.
The shift to sustainable sources of energy comes at an especially urgent time, considering Jamaica’s vulnerability to the effects of global warming: rising sea levels, coral bleaching, and changes in the frequency of tropical storms that impact the Caribbean.
Headmistress Murray can already see the winds of change from her school—literally—in the form of 11 turbines now spinning on a blustery mountain ridge covered by a patchwork of farms. These turbines were set up by BMR Jamaica Wind Limited, the largest private sector-led renewable energy project in the country. Located about 90 kilometers west of Kingston, the new project is expected to generate about 120,000 megawatts of energy per year—equivalent to 3 percent of Jamaica’s energy demand—and reach about 15,000 customers.
The 36-megawatt project was supported by IFC and the Government of Canada through the IFC-Canada Climate Change Program, as well as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s development finance institution. It’s the most recent plant among a group of renewable energy projects launching throughout the country.
The energy produced by BMR’s turbines is expected to be among the cheapest available in Jamaica’s grid. The environmental benefit is also substantial: the project is expected to cut greenhouse emissions by about 66,000 tons per year, the equivalent of taking about 13,000 cars off the road.
The success of this plant and similar projects has prompted the Jamaican government to issue a request for interested companies to propose additional renewable energy projects.
At Hampton School, Murray is enthusiastic about her country’s efforts to go green. She and her students are doing their part: earlier this year, the school swapped all fluorescent light bulbs for more environmentally friendly LED bulbs. They also installed about a dozen solar panels to integrate renewable energy into their electricity supply. The panels, combined with small wind turbines on campus, now provide about one-fifth of the school’s energy needs.
A lower electric bill translates into more money for learning. And that means the girls at Hampton School have the opportunity to become “those bright minds we want for Jamaica’s future,” Murray says.
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Published in September 2016