Record-breaking fuel costs have pushed the Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC) to consider the possibility of harvesting wind power in the Cayman Islands.
CUC is seeking experienced and qualified wind-generation companies worldwide to look at investing in windmill infrastructure capable of producing up to 10 megawatts or about 13 percent of Cayman’s current generation capacity.
Wind turbines have become an increasingly familiar addition to the landscapes of North America and Europe but in the Caribbean wind power is still very much stuck on the drawing board.
Corporate Secretary for CUC, Douglas Murray, said that when the company took a look at wind power back in 2003 it wasn’t economically feasible to implement large windmills but a shaky oil market has changed all that.
“Certainly the recent spike in the cost of fuel has caused us to push this back onto the radar. We knew that at some point if the price of fuel went up or the cost of wind generation went down or the efficiency of wind generation improved, then the economic factors would improve in that regard,” he said.
While CUC is not offering to assist with the initial construction and implementation of the wind turbines, the company will buy back the electricity generated in accordance with their new licensing and distribution agreement signed earlier this year with Government. CUC says this is part of a commitment to bring cheap and renewable energy to the island.
“We don’t want to bring a party here to the island that starts a project that can’t be completed. The parties that are going to do this, we’re looking for them to make the investment. We are not at this point looking to make the investment ourselves,” Mr Murray said.
The process could require between two and three years before residents will notice the somewhat hypnotic blades twisting in Cayman’s trade winds, he added. Currently 15 diesel generators and two gas-powered units supply all of CUC’s power, with another three generators on their way in the next couple of years, bearing a price tag of $24 million apiece.
The windmills will also most likely be erected in either North Side or East End in line with the direction of the prevailing winds.
Already a step ahead of Grand Cayman, next year Cayman Brac plans on installing as many as 10 windmills on The Bluff. The 199-foot towers will be capable of supplying 30 percent to 40 percent of the island’s 3.3-megawatt power needs.
Wind power is generally seen as a clean and renewable energy but it is not without controversy. Wind turbines have been blamed for chopping up birds, ruining once-unobstructed views and adding to noise pollution.
Mr Murray said CUC is prepared for public discussion on any issues of concern.
“We would be happy to hear from the public on this and by all means, if people have an interest in this, we always want to hear from them and have them let us know what they think,” he said.
Wind turbines are not the only environmentally friendly source of power that CUC is considering. The company is encouraging homeowners and small businesses to embrace the use of solar power and even look at technology that uses the temperature of the ocean to generate electricity.
Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is a process that uses the differences between the temperature of shallow water and deep water to run a heat engine. Because of Cayman’s proximity to the Cayman Trench, OTEC could be a viable option for the country but the technology has not yet developed an affordable economic model.
Other Caribbean countries looking into the usage of wind power include Grenada, the Bahamas and Barbados, with Jamaica leading the way.
Jamaica has one wind farm boasting 23 turbines capable of producing enough electricity to power more than 6,000 households at peak capacity.
By Trent Jacobs
29 July 2008