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Light bill down from $58,000 to $1,700 monthly with RE

ATTORNEY Mike Drakulich just about had enough with his electricity bill. $58,000 monthly was really too much, despite the fact that he runs his law office and a tour company from his five-bedroom seafront villa in Ocho Rios.

So two years ago, Drakulich contacted Damian Lyn at Alternative Power Sources in Spanish Town. The lawyer wanted to reduce his energy bill.

Lyn introduced him to solar and wind energy systems after doing a comprehensive audit of the attorney’s energy usage and needs. Now, Drakulich is ecstatic, having seen his electricity bill reduced to anywhere from $1,700 to $9,000 monthly, he says.
The investment, Drakulich is quick to point out, isn’t cheap. He spent about $1.5 million installing the systems. However, he’s satisfied with the payback.

“I would say that in the two years I’ve had the system I’ve saved close to $1.2 million,” Drakulich tells the Sunday Observer. “It’s a big investment, but you recover your cost in a couple of years.”
Drakulich is one of at least nine persons in St Ann whom Lyn and his team of young professionals have helped generate electricity from sources other than oil.

Lyn’s firm, a member of the Jampearl Group of companies, has several other clients, mostly in rural Jamaica, who have gone beyond the government’s knee-jerk reaction to sourcing alternative energy whenever oil prices rocket, only to abandon the idea once the crisis is past.

It happened during the oil price shocks of 1974, when the per gallon barrel price quadrupled to near US$12, and again in 1979 when the cost climbed above US$80. In fact, the country had gotten as far as preparing a comprehensive energy policy, aspects of which were being implemented, when oil prices fell to below US$10 per barrel in 1985, and the conservation drive lost momentum.

But since 1999, fuel prices have been increasing again. On Friday, crude oil prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed at US$64.58, slipping below the record US$70.85 per barrel set on August 30.

But Venezuela, South America’s biggest producer and the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, warned that prices could reach US$100 a barrel because of limited reserves worldwide.

According to Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, the 11 oil-producing countries that make up the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are pumping at near capacity.
“OPEC is practically already at its production ceiling,” Chavez was quoted by wire services as telling reporters at a United Nations summit in New York Friday. “The problem is the oil reserves are running out. It is a true crisis.”

The price surge has renewed focus on alternative energy sources, particularly here in Jamaica where oil accounts for more than 90 per cent of energy consumption.

Last year, Jamaica’s oil bill was US$937 million, an increase of US$124 million over the previous year. This year, the island’s energy officials say the bill will amount to US$1.2 billion.

While the Jamaican government has acknowledged the need to diversify the country’s energy base, and has committed to encouraging and facilitating the development of all renewable and new energy sources, the administration has been accused of lacking the courage of its conviction.

Last month, attorney Paul Beswick, in an analysis of the government’s proposed energy policy published in this newspaper, said the administration needed to recognise that the abolition of import duties, taxes and processing fees on photovoltaic systems, small wind turbines, and the additional components required for the systems to function was vital to encourage the local production and importation of energy efficient devices.

Government officials could not be contacted for a response to Beswick’s comment, and Phillip Paulwell, the minister with responsibility for energy, was abroad on business.

Lyn, the managing director of Alternative Power Sources, agrees with Beswick. “I would like to see the government lift the GCT (General Consumption Tax) on deep cell batteries and inverters,” he says during a visit to Green Produce Farm in Claremont, St Ann on August 31.

The 390-acre farm, owned and operated by entrepreneur Patricia Isaacs-Green, produces oranges, yams, sweet potatoes, vegetables and sweet corn, mostly for the hotel sector.
At the time of the Sunday Observer visit, the farm was operating on a generator. However, Lyn had already outfitted the operation with inverters and batteries and was awaiting the arrival of panels to go fully solar-powered.

According to Lyn, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) had told Isaacs-Green that it would have cost her J$1.5 million to mount a transformer in order for the company to provide her farm with electricity.

But Isaacs-Green found the cost too heavy, considering the fact that she would be faced with monthly bills from the electricity company. So she called in Lyn.

“We tested for wind here, that’s the first thing we did, because a wind-generation system is less costly to install and more economical to run,” Lyn explains.

Based on his recommendation to use solar energy, panels were ordered from overseas and the generator used to recharge the batteries until the solar panels arrived.

That system cost Isaacs-Green J$2.6 million and Lyn calculates that her payback time will be between five and eight years. “It still works out cheaper than being on the JPS system,” he insists.

He uses his house, which he’s in the process of converting to solar energy, as an example of the benefit. “My light bill monthly is J$14,000. The system I am installing will cost J$1.4 million,” he says, pointing out that his heavy appliances include an electric stove, dishwasher, and a water heater on a timer, which, he says, he’s going to change to solar collectors.

Lyn also says that he runs 16 floodlights at night around his house because he’s “very security conscious”.
Based on his current monthly bill, Lyn would have paid the JPS J$1.34 million for electricity over eight years using the same amount of energy.

His knowledge and experience are being utilised by prominent Kingston law firm DunnCox for which he recently completed an energy audit.

However, Lyn acknowledges that not everyone can afford the initial investment of solar or wind generated systems. Therefore, his company, which holds the local franchise for Outback and Xantrex inverters, is acquiring what he calls small starter systems that can gradually be expanded at the owner’s wish.

“If your power consumption is 10 kilowatts, we’ll equip you for that,” he explains. “If you plan, within a year, to go to 15 kilowatts. you can gradually spend the money to improve the system. It is made in such a way that you can add on.”
The starter system costs between J$100,000 and J$120,000, including GCT.

“Just imagine if we took off 16 1/2 per cent (the GCT), just imagine what it would come down by,” Lyn says, adding that an additional lifting of import duties on deep cell batteries and inverters would help more Jamaicans to afford installing alternative energy systems and lead to a reduction in the country’s oil import bill.

“Let the thing be affordable,” he pleads. “If they (government) are serious about cutting cost and saving on what they spend; If the government calculate their energy bill, what they pay in US dollars against what concessions they’re giving up, it’s worth it.”

Lyn’s appeal will likely win support from Dr Raymond Wright, group managing director of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, who has made a similar proposal to the government.
In fact, on Friday, Wright told the Sunday Observer that he had re-submitted a number of alternative energy proposals to the government just a week ago.

Among them, he said, was for the country to encourage the use of compact fluorescent bulbs in homes by increasing the cost of incandescent bulbs, which are widely used because they are fairly cheap.

“Compact fluorescent bulbs burn 70 per cent less energy, and last longer than incandescent bulbs,” Dr Wright argued. “If we can change all our incandescent bulbs in a big way, it could lead to significant savings in our fuel bill.”



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