By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A RENEWABLE energy provider is looking to "commission" its Eleuthera wind farm by early 2013, having invested $250,000 in completing the first project phase involving the construction of a Meteorological tower.
Thomas Schneider, president of Schneider Power, which together with Bahamian firm, WINSO Company, has formed the Eleuthera Wind Power entity to supply renewable energy to the Tarpum Bay reverse osmosis plant, said the project was intended to be "a fantastic concept showcase" to encourage its wider use in the Bahamas.
Telling Tribune Business that 4-5 Bahamian contractors from Eleuthera, and around 25 workers in total, had been employed on first phase site clearance and tower construction, Mr Schneider said companies and households would likely see a 20-25 per cent reduction in power costs once renewable energy was integrated into the BEC grid.
The Bahamas, Mr Schneider said, fallen "slightly behind and has to catch up" with Caribbean rivals, embracing renewable energy if its economy, and key industries such as the hotel sector, are to "remain competitive".
Eleuthera Wind Power's $2 million wind farm, when completed, will supply only the General Electric (GE) reverse osmosis plant at Tarpum Bay. In turn, that facility is supplying Water & Sewerage Corporation customers with potable drinking water.
Construction of the Meteorological Tower is the Tarpum Bay project's first phase, and is designed to collect data on wind speed, air pressure, direction and temperature over a 12-month period. Effectively, it is a feasibility study, designed to determine the viability of wind power at Tarpum Bay, and give confidence to both GE and the Water & Sewerage Corporation.
"We're obviously finalising the engineering and structural points, and the pre-construction engineering will be done at the same time as the wind assessment is completed," Mr Schneider told Tribune Business.
"We do have preliminary assessments, and the Met Tower is there to gather data for financing purposes. We'll have a preliminary assessment after six months, probably by July/the end of summer. We'll have a pretty good understanding then, and will make a decision to go forward with the pre-construction and order the wind turbines and equipment."
Mr Schneider added that Eleuthera Wind Power had a 12-month timeframe in which to complete its Tarpum Bay wind assessments, and "will be looking at early 2013 for a commissioning date".
He explained that once the wind data proved satisfactory, it would take around four weeks to construct the wind farm.
Asked whether he was confident there was enough wind to generate the necessary power, Mr Schneider replied: "We would not have made this investment if we thought otherwise. The Tower itself represents $250,000 alone. It represents a significant investment."
If all goes well, then the Eleuthera Wind Power consortium, in which Schneider Power holds a 51 per cent majority stake, aims to "duplicate" its Tarpum Bay model at six other Family Island reverse osmosis plants.
"We want to make sure this project is successful before we move on to the next one," Mr Schneider explained. "What we've decided to do is complete the project at Tarpum Bay, and find it's beneficial for people to see a project working, touch it, feel it.
"With oil prices going back up over $100 a barrel, it's definitely in the Government's interests to find renewable energy solutions. A lot of people come to town with proposals, but for us we're actually making the investment and making things happen, because we have the expertise and are comfortable with the risk.
"It's new to the jurisdiction, but this will be a fantastic point of concept, even to the consumer. In the Bahamas, there's always wind and sun. A simple breeze, which we have day in and day out, is more than sufficient to generate electricity. My hope is that us coming in and paving the way will make the Government more comfortable in looking at other ways to use renewable energy in the country."
Pointing out that Eleuthera Wind Power's project was not a "super, large-scale wind farm", Mr Schneider said homes could be powered by small wind turbines that did not make noise and took up little roof space. "It could generate 20 times the electricity of a solar panel," he added.
"The electricity generation and price point is half of what consumers are currently paying, so there's a huge economic incentive for the Bahamas to look at this.
"The nice thing about wind is that it is free, so there are no input costs. We have long-term price stability, which is something you don't have with these fuel surcharges topping up on electricity bills," Mr Schneider said.
"If the Bahamas can reduce electricity costs by 30 per cent, that effectively means everyone in the country is getting a 30 per cent rise. Electricity is one of the biggest costs in Nassau and the Family Islands, and if bills go down by 30 per cent, every consumer has more money in purchasing."
Embracing renewable energy was critical if the Bahamas, and industries such as hotels, tourism and manufacturing, were to "remain competitive with other jurisdictions", given the impact energy costs were having on their prices.
Mr Schneider said the Dominican Republic, for example, had already permitted the hotel sector to use feed-in renewable energy tariffs, selling excess energy back to the grid.
"That is a direct benefit to their tourism economy through the hotel properties, so the Bahamas should be looking to some of its neighbours," he added. "Bermuda, Barbados, Guyana, all those countries have made significant efforts in dealing with renewable energy.
"The Bahamas is slightly behind, and has to catch up if we want to remain competitive."
In a previous interview, Vincent McDonald, chief executive of Winso Company, the 49 per cent Bahamian partner of Schneider Power, said the Eleuthera Wind Power consortium planned to supply electricity at a fixed price of $0.20 per kilowatt hour, a cost 43-46 per cent below the Bahamas Electricity Corporation's (BEC) $0.35-$0.37 per kilowatt hour.
This, he said, would reduce Tarpum Bay's power costs by 25-30 per cent throughout the duration of Eleuthera Wind Power's 20-year power purchase agreement.
Mr McDonald added on a statement: "The development project is fully privately funded and remains on time and on budget. Our planned small-scale, low-impact wind farm will eventually produce 750,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power an equivalent of 1,000 Bahamian homes."