Chicago energy firm looks to $35 million investment, jobs

A Chicago-based renewable-energy company indicates it will invest as much as $35 million and create dozens of jobs starting early next year as it builds solar and wind systems for the Caribbean Utilities Company.

New Generation Power, named on Wednesday by CUC as one of two U.S. companies building 13 megawatts of alternate-power generation on sites in Cayman’s eastern districts, said it would start construction in the next “two, maybe three to four months.”

“The interconnection studies” with the utility “will start in the next few weeks,” said Ania Kuna, NGP executive vice president. “They take two months to three months, and determine how much power we can have, looking at capacities and overloads.” She said the company wants to make sure that what NGP produces is suitable for Cayman’s transmission and distribution grid.

“Our goal is to finish construction next year, in mid-to-late 2014, and to switch on the system, to come online, at the end of 2014,” she added.

NGP will build two power-generation systems, one for 5 megawatts of solar energy and a second for 3 megawatts of wind energy.

Ms Kuna said the solar array would comprise a series of panels on a site between 25 acres and 30 acres, while wind turbines would occupy another area of approximately 60 acres.

“It requires about five acres per megawatt for solar,” she said. “Wind needs a little more.”

She declined to name the sites for the generation facility, or if the wind and solar functions would be separated.

“There are a couple of potential sites that are more in the east area of the island,” she said, “and not in any residential or commercial areas, more toward the middle of the island.”

Company executives, she said, plan to tour Grand Cayman this week and meet CUC executives and landowners to seek to finalize land-acquisition agreements.

Ms Kuna was unable to suggest the size or numbers of windmills or solar panels that the company would install, saying NGP had not “pushed out” specifications to “manufacturers or suppliers, so we can’t know the specifics of the design. It depends on the size. If they are bigger, we’ll use fewer of them; if smaller, we’ll use more. The price of the turbines will depend on what is done.”

The solar operations were likely to be more expensive than wind, however. Turbine “costs have gone down a little bit, and we are looking for the lowest and best price for electricity.” Panel technology, she said, was still evolving.

Investment in the solar side, she said “will be between $20 million and $25 million. For wind, it’s a little less, about $10 million or so.”

The plans come in the wake of CUC’s announcement on Wednesday that New Generation Power and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s International Electric Power had won the company’s August 2011 “request for proposals” for renewable energy plants, supplying 13 megawatts of electricity.

A CUC spokesman said the alternate power would “replace 4 percent of diesel energy” produced by the company, which burns 30 million gallons of fuel each year in its 18 diesel generating units and two gas turbines, with a capacity of 151.23 megawatts.

Pittsburgh’s IEP, scheduled to create 5 MW of solar power, told the Caymanian Compass last week it was prepared to spend $15 million on the project, starting construction in April and finishing in January 2015.

“We want to get the best value for the dollar,” IEP President Enzo Zoratto said, “and we are looking forward to establishing ourselves in Cayman. We will be using local contractors, hiring local people, using local suppliers and local services for hardware and equipment.”

Ms Kuna said NGP was “looking forward to hiring locally as much as we can, using local people and local resources.”

She estimated 50 construction jobs would become available, running for a year on the dual sites, although operations and maintenance would be ongoing. At least 15 jobs would be permanent.

Both energy companies said the electricity they produced would be cheaper than the CUC product. Ms Kuna and Mr. Zoratto pegged production costs for solar at 20 cents per kilowatt hour. Wind, she said, would be at 14 cents per kilowatt hour.

CUC charges consumers approximately 34 cents for a kilowatt hour, a price that includes a “fuel factor,” accounting for volatile oil prices. Company spokeswoman Pat Bynoe-Clarke said the savings would be shared.

“The costs for these renewable energy projects is anticipated to be lower than current diesel costs, and any benefits will be passed on to the consumer,” she said, while reminding customers that the projects still had hurdles to clear.

“As you know, this is a very detailed process and the developers will now be seeking the necessary planning permits and regulatory approvals to move the plans forward,” she said.