Jamaica, the paradise island that is sometimes referred to as “the land of wood and water,” has great hydroelectric potential due to its topography and climate. Out of 120 rivers, the Island has several that are suitable for hydroelectricity power generation. Prime among them are:

1. Back Rio Grande – located in the parish of Portland
2. Great River – borders the parishes of St. James and Hanover
3. Laughlands Great River – is located in the parish of St. Ann
4. Rio Grande – is located in the parish of PortlandHydroelectric power is power generated from water. Currently there are 8 hydroelectric power plants in operation across Jamaica, all owned and maintained by the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo.). These currently provide 5% base load capacity for the public electric grid during the rainy seasons. Most of these systems are fairly old however, with the youngest ones being more than 15 years old.

The following Table shows historical data of hydroelectric generation in Jamaica:

In April of last year (2011), the JPSCo unveiled plans to undertake the first major hydroelectric development in Jamaica in over 30 years. The commission of the new plan would save the country from importing 48,000 barrels of fuel per year, for the generation of electricity.

At an estimated price of $100 per barrel, this would save Jamaica US$4.8M annually. The new plant, which will see a doubling of the capacity at the Magotty Hydroelectric Plant, is scheduled for completion by July 2013.

The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) have shown through studies that Jamaica’s hydroelectric potential could be further exploited through the construction of a number of small-scale plants. The total technical potential is estimated to be in the range of more than 56 MW, including one large-scale facility at Back Rio Grande.

While the technical feasibility was proven in most cases, the economic assessment resulted in negative decisions in the past due to the high investment costs involved and low comparative electricity generation costs from conventional plants. The instability in global oil prices has seen this negative perception waned, reflected by JPS’s decision to expand the capacity of the Maggoty Plant.

These feasibility studies now opens up the door for members of the private sector to step in an play a bigger role in leading the way forward towards the use of cleaner, cheaper sources of electricity. Private investors should, however be aware that current legislation requires a license for all types of water uses, issued by the Water Resources Authority. The license is granted for a period of 5 years, but can be extended thereafter. In competing situations preference is given to fresh-water use over any energetic purposes. All environmental aspects have to be approved by the National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA).

Author: Courtney Powell
Courtney Powell is the founder of Xenogy Consulting. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree (BSc.) in Electrical and Computer Engineering and is currently pursuing a Master of Applied Science (MASc.) Degree in Energy Systems at the University of the West Indies (St. Augustine). He specializes in Power System Engineering, Renewable Energy, and Power System Economics and is currently the vice-chair of the IEEE Power and Energy Society Trinidad & Tobago.

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