Groundbreaking will take place Monday for Cayman’s first solar farm, which will begin generating power in October.
Initially scheduled for February, construction on the 21,690-panel, 22-acre array in eastern Bodden Town will start one week after the May 9 groundbreaking on a former vegetable farm adjacent to Pease Bay Pond. The project will cost approximately $18 million.
The farm is expected to begin producing 5 megawatts of electricity in late October, a slightly accelerated schedule from an otherwise typical “seven to eight months” after the start of construction, according to David March, managing partner of North Carolina-based builder Entropy Investment Management, and local affiliate Entropy Cayman Solar.
Mr. March will arrive on Sunday for the ceremony, and will leave Tuesday. He is likely to meet legal advisers and subcontractors while here.
The hiatus between February and May, he said, “had been caused by a variety of administrative tasks that always take longer than one expects.”
Entropy has built more than 350 MW of solar, mostly in the U.S. The company has completed 41 projects, including three 10MW arrays in Panama. Mr. March believes “Latin America and the Caribbean are attractive investment markets and have unique load, environmental and grid characteristics that multiply the value of solar and other renewable-energy technologies.”
In October 2013, Cayman’s electric utility overseer, the Electricity Regulatory Authority, approved a 5 MW solar bid tendered by Pittsburgh’s International Electric Power, which subsequently transferred the project to Entropy Investment Management, an affiliate of Entropy Cayman Solar Ltd.
On Oct. 30, 2015, the Electricity Regulatory Authority approved an agreement for the generation and purchase of solar-generated electricity hammered out between Entropy and the Caribbean Utilities Company.
The 25-year pact requires Entropy to supply 5MW of solar-generated power to CUC’s nationwide transmission and distribution grid. The utility will pay 17 cents per kWh to Entropy, though the price charged to consumers is likely to be closer to 27 cents.
Electricity Regulatory Authority Managing Director Charles Farrington said the authority had not been given “a firm groundbreaking date,” but had approved “only a target commercial operation date of October 2016 – which ERA understands has not been changed.”
The solar farm is the first utility-scale solar project in Cayman. As such, development costs “are considerably higher,” Mr. March said, “and time lines extended, as well as the regulatory evolution in new markets.”
“The same was true in the United States. Early projects took considerably longer than what is experienced today. We expect the Caribbean will become easier and less expensive to do renewable energy projects as the market matures,” he said.
Training and costs of labor are higher in Cayman than the U.S. Design and materials, he said, must withstand hurricane-force winds.
Since Cayman is essentially made up of volcanic rock, “We cannot drive racking pilings, so we need to use high wind-velocity ballasted systems,” which means Entropy must import considerable amounts of cement.
“Since Cayman is low-lying land, we also [have] to build up the height of the site for flooding purposes,” he added. “The lack of utility-scale solar equipment support in the Caymans requires us to use more easily replaceable and redundant systems to avoid downtime.”
Proximity to the ocean “requires the use of more expensive materials, such as stainless steel, to avoid corrosion,” he said.
Finally, he pointed to regulatory uncertainties for a first-time utility-scale renewable-power project: “It took all parties a long time to work through all the issues, but all parties worked collaboratively and in partnership. Everyone had the same goal of getting this solar project completed.”
Because the Cayman grid is smaller than in the U.S., it required “much more diligence, engineering, safety concerns and forethought” to integrate renewable power.
“There isn’t as large a margin for error in a small grid,” he said. “The ERA and CUC understand this and did a great job in ensuring safe, reliable solar integration.”
He was hopeful that as the project proves successful, it might spur further development of solar, not only in Cayman, but throughout the Caribbean. Mr. Farrington said the Electricity Regulatory Authority was already looking toward a second tender for a new 5 MW solar farm.