Wind power proposed

The Ministry of Infrastructure has received a proposal for a green energy policy that suggests Grand Cayman begin using wind turbine generators.

The proposal document states that preliminary information received makes it appear that a wind power electrical generating station would be feasible on Grand Cayman.

‘I think it’s very feasible,’ said Gary Medwid of SouthStar Developments Inc., which submitted the proposal.

‘With the price of electricity here, I don’t understand why there isn’t wind power here.’

Prince Edward helped break ground on wind farm to be used by Cayman Brac Power & Light Company during his visit here in February.

Mr. Medwid said the feasibility of the proposal for Grand Cayman is based partially on a wind study report he received from Caribbean Utilities Company. It is also based on the cost of electricity here.

In most places in the world, green energy like wind power costs more than energy produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Governments elsewhere usually subsidise the production of green energy as a matter of environmental policy. That would not be necessary here, Mr. Medwid said.

‘The Cayman Islands is one of the few countries where wind power is actually cheaper to generating electricity with fossil fuels,’ he said. ‘The way demand is going up for oil, you’re going to see the rates increasing even higher.’

CUC President and CEO Richard Hew has met with Mr. Medwid and gave him the wind survey report the company completed in 2003. That report was based on wind speed data measured over the course of one year in High Rock area of East End and in the high-elevation area of North Side. The report also takes into consideration wind data provided by Cayman’s Meteorological Office over a five-year period.

‘We’ve been sharing our data with people who we feel are seriously looking at providing wind power here,’ he said, adding that CUC has given the data to two or three parties.

Mr. Medwid said wind power energy could be produced at about 15 cents per kilowatt hour, which is significantly less than the rate being charged by CUC when fuel costs are factored in. Even if a fee of five cents per kilowatt hour – which Mr. Hew agrees is in the ballpark of the cost for transmission and distribution – is added on as a fee for CUC to deliver the electricity generated by wind power, the cost would still be considerably less than CUC’s rates, Mr. Medwid said.

After its 2003 study, CUC determined wind power would not be cost efficient unless fuel prices rose to around $2.40 per gallon. Now that the price has crossed the $2.30-per-gallon threshold, CUC has started to look at the possibilities of using wind power again.

‘If [wind power] is in the best interest of all parties, we’re open to it,’ said Mr. Hew. ‘If it’s cost-effective and will reduce some of the reliance on fossil fuels, it’s of benefit to consumers because it will give some price stability.’

The SouthStar proposal argues that there is a need for green energy in the Cayman Islands for more reasons besides cost, partially because the country has to do its part to reduce carbon emissions and global warming.

With continued development and population growth on Grand Cayman, power demand will also continue to increase.

‘This increased generating capacity can and should be sourced from green energy products only,’ the proposal states.

Mr. Medwid explained that he is not suggesting wind power replace CUC’s fuel turbine generators. But as Grand Cayman requires more electricity, that demand should not be met by buying new fossil-fuel burning generators.

Mr. Hew said there could be a problem with having half of Cayman’s power supplied by wind power because it is not always consistent in generation because of wind conditions. On calm days, CUC would have to supply any shortage of generation, which would be difficult if it was only producing half of the generating capacity.

Electrical power could be stored for use in these situations, but the cost of storing is too expensive now, Mr. Hew said.

The SouthStar proposal recommends Cayman use two-megawatt wind turbines to achieve the lowest cost of production per kilowatt hour. Mr. Medwid said he thought an installation of five of the turbines in a wind farm array would work best.

Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said she had seen a copy of the proposal.

‘Given the implications of global warming for us… we should make some sort of commitment to renewable energy,’ she said.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie stopped short of endorsing wind power in particular, but said all renewable sources of energy should be considered.

‘That is best done in the context of a National Energy Policy,’ she said.

‘But we fully support the notion that as a country we should be meeting some portion of our energy needs from renewable sources.’

Wind power is not without its detractors, primarily because of its impact on wildlife.

In a US House of Representatives hearing of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Ocean that took place this week, US House Representative Nick Rahall said there was a real and growing threat of wind power on wildlife, especially birds and bats.

Witnesses at the hearing testified that the blades from wind turbine generators in West Virginia kill 7,000 bats annually. Another witness said wind power kills 30,000 to 60,000 birds a year in the US

Cayman bat conservationist Lois Blumenthal agrees there is a serious need for green energy projects. But in a letter she sent to several interested parties including the DoE in March, she urged for careful consideration of any proposal.

‘The impulse to search for easy answers has created an opening for the marketing of a technology that may not be thoroughly researched,’ she said. ‘Whatever we decide to do here, we need to consider the possibly huge impact on wildlife and proceed accordingly.’

Ms Blumenthal also suggested wind power might not produce the promised results.

‘My understanding is that salesmen paint an overly rosy picture of the amount of energy that can be generated by wind with the technology currently available,’ she said. ‘There is a very narrow window of perfect winds and that wind speeds higher or lower require that the windmills be turned off, so the average wind extrapolations are not meaningful.”

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