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Can Wind And Solar Make Us Rich?

208717Having now understood that cheap storage is the only thing holding us back from using 100 per cent of renewable power sources, you may glean all that it means for “energising” Jamaica both electrically and wealth-wise. The single result of ensuring that there is enough storage causes the duality of cheap electricity — household prices likely under US$0.20 cents per kWh or some 60 per cent lower than our previous fossil-fuelled electrical highs; while we retain over US$100 million in the economy each and every month going forward from the elimination of imported fuels that is squeezing the life out of every one of us. Imagine how much we could do with that!

Jamaica’s annual foreign exchange shortfall is just under US$800 million each year with little variance. We spend more than that for fuel purchases for Jamaica Public Service (JPS) and its independent power producers that feed our electricity grid. Eliminating these foreign fuel purchases will immediately create positive and growing foreign exchange balances for our country. In economist terminology, it wipes out our annual balance-of-trade deficits, and repeatedly boosts our foreign reserves.

Had we become energy smart a lot earlier, we would not have needed “help” from the International Monetary Fund and its austerity prescriptions.

The use of massive amounts of renewables is ensured through having adequate storage, so why repeat the mistakes of the past by giving away its ownership to foreigners? Can we fund and own these ourselves, thus ensuring we can never again be held to ransom by either foreign lenders (foreign investments) or those that control foreign supplies (in the case of fuel or batteries)? Let’s stay away from anything that requires repetitive foreign exchange purchases.

Sorry if I sound like a socialist; I’m really just a nationalist. I want my kids to be proud Jamaicans, and I want them to be able to live here.

We have already established that adequacy of storage allows for jettisoning our fossil-fired energy. Can we now create a national funding approach to quickly fund these renewables but available first-and-foremost to our citizens as investors, including citizen siblings and uncles and aunts abroad? We took this revolutionary approach with the National Housing Trust to great success. No foreign investors there. Just as we needed to ensure that funding for housing developers exist, now we need to ensure that funding for national storage developers is available. We now need a National Green-Energy Trust or something similar for storage, given that this “pumped-hydro” is an asset that keeps on giving to its investors for almost 100 years, similar to housing, That’s a huge payback for the fund contributors; our citizens at home and abroad. The income streams from this type of storage are very stable and predictable, possibly 40 years at fixed rates, followed by another 40 or more of variable rates. We could share some of these income streams with our citizens in the Diaspora via investment returns. The shorter-term renewables: solar farms that last some 40 years, and wind farms that last some 20, can continue to be offered to foreign capital with their access to low-cost capital, resulting in ultra-low electricity at US$0.04 cents per kWh and dropping.

Stored hydro is the backbone of our cheap and domestic-derived power, so don’t give our future independence away.

Let’s start the financing effort by issuing ‘green bonds’ specifically designated for renewable projects and that cannot be used otherwise, as suggested in my previous Jamaica Observer article at:–green-energy-bonds-to-pay-for-renewables_18720901.

Since the object is not just capital availability to developers to speedily put up renewable energy farms, but relatively cheap capital as well, let us eliminate the middle-man banks and financial institutions that pile on some four per cent to the interest rates on offer. Energy developers are few and far between, so this paucity can adequately be handled by our central bank at decent rates. Individual banks can offer their own versions if they wish. Another alternative is for the Development Bank of Jamaica to handle it, but they lack the direct lender-to-developer capacity in my opinion. We could channel the Bank of Jamaica-raised capital through them if preferred, at a stipulated rate of less than half-a-percent to developers.

The BOJ is best suited to decide what and how much is on offer, in conjunction with the energy regulators. Japan’s central bank took a short-term approach — 0.24 per cent for two years and this multi-hundred-million US-dollar offer was massively oversubscribed. So too have many low rate offerings elsewhere, usually in the 1.5 per cent to two per cent range for say three- or four-year tenures. High-interest-rate India (compared to Jamaica) has done multiple offers of these at around 4.5 per cent in US dollar terms and they have all been massively oversubscribed. Over US$1 billion green bonds were raised in India, China and Japan in 2015. BOJ might have to mix it up by offering long-term bonds to Jamaican nationals at around seven per cent in US dollar terms, and much lower rates and shorter tenures for the general foreign markets.

With this approach we could capture just about all overseas Jamaicans investments which are performing at tepid rates presently. And we could build a “pension” for every local household via JPS bills saved.

But, best of all, the owners would be every poor and not-so-poor Jamaican household, thereby spreading the wealth and eroding income inequality. And yet, there remains a market for larger concentrated capital pools from those big investors daring enough to export energy to the wider Caribbean via ocean cables, made possible by pumped storage.

During the period while the capital formation is being planned and executed, we could go for broke with new energy regulator-approved auctions to fully power Jamaica’s daytime needs from cheap solar at these low prices of 8.5 US cents (today’s prices). We eliminate some 70 per cent of our poverty-inducing fuel bill that way. We ought to power our remaining night-time needs from cheaper LNG, now that our present reconfigured LNG gas-fired turbines have this capability and have the combined capacity. The 30 per cent remaining fuel purchases would now drop in price substantially, leaving a much-reduced annual fuel bill.

As the capital for storage is gathered, we can fund these storage projects. Kick off the fund by borrowings from multilateral organisations if that gives a speedier start, but pay it down quickly as the green-bond funds materialise. Expansion of these storage facilities can take place wherever available space allows. Spread them strategically across the island, including large farmers with land space, even cane factories. Attach storage to renewable solar and wind farms. Eliminate the use of gas-fired backup progressively, as we replace this with non-imported pumped-hydro capacity.

Finally, free at last! Economic independence attained after 50 years of political independence.  But you may differ.


Category/ies:Jamaica News, News, Renewable Energy, Solar Energy.
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