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BEC signs ‘historical’ renewable energy deal

In landmark deal, BEC signs with U.S. firm to deliver ocean-powered electricity to the general public
NG Business Editor

Published: Sep 22, 2011

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The Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) made history yesterday when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a renewable energy company to produce ocean-powered electricity for the general public - a venture which will come at no cost to The Bahamas.

The landmark power/purchasing agreement, signed with Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (OTEC), will result in a commercial-grade plant built entirely by the U.S. based company.

BEC, in turn, will purchase the energy and provide it to the Bahamian people, becoming the first utility in the world to provide ocean-powered, base-load energy for market use.

In the end, according to BEC, it will provide reliable, affordable, cleaner and more efficient power.

Jeremy Feakins, the Chairman and CEO of OTEC, believes this project will be a “shining example” on the possibilities of renewable energy.

“The Bahamas will be an example to the world on how an island community can successfully follow the road to sustainable energy production,” he told Guardian Business, adding that construction of the facility will take between two and three years.

“One of the great things with this model, is we not only bring the expertise, but also the financing.  We design, build and operate the plants, and then sell the energy we produce.

“We do not look to BEC or the government for any money.”

For the last several months, Feakins has been in close talks with Michael Moss, the Chairman of BEC, and Earl Deveaux, the Minister of the Environment.

Deveaux was unavailable for comment. Phenton Neymour, the Minister of State for the Environment, did not return calls before press time.

Meanwhile, Kevin Basden, the General Manager of BEC, called the deal a “historical time” for the company and The Bahamas.

Moss echoed his sentiments. He said there were a number of other renewable ideas being considered, but ultimately, ocean thermal energy was an original and practical solution.

Unlike solar and wind, ocean thermal energy can be produced 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, and doesn’t require any fossil fuels to function.

Moss added that The Bahamas is uniquely situated to exploit this technology.

“The uniqueness of several islands being closely located near the tongue of the ocean and having access to rather cold water, but also warm water, is what makes this technology flourish,” he said.

“The bigger the difference in temperature, the better.”

Constructed adjacent to an existing BEC facility, the plant will, in essence,  pump the frigid water from the depths of the ocean.  While warm water is simultaneously brought into the plant, they are combined to produce great amounts of steam, which subsequently drives turbine generators.

The concept, seemingly science fiction, has other practical applications that will be invaluable to The Bahamas, including desalination for agriculture and seawater district cooling for air conditioners.

Located in Hawaii, OTEC’s current plant has served as a test project for the company and is not commercial grade.

OTEC, in collaboration with the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii (NELHA), has explored the merits of ocean thermal energy conversion for decades.

The NELHA was first established in 1974 in part by the Hawaii State Legislature.

Today, in Nassau, the exact site for the commercial-grade plant has yet to be determined.

The next step, Feakins said, is for a team of engineers to arrive in Nassau and draw up the plans and designs.

“We are working out the schedule now, but I anticipate that will happen over the next couple of weeks,” he added.  “I don’t think it will take us long to come up with the designs.  In the end, what it will really come down to is what we charge for the electricity.”

Feakins said OTEC is still determining how big the plant will be and how much it will cost, but he felt the price tag would easily surpass $100 million.  He pointed out that it will be a commercial-grade plant, capable of powering homes and businesses.

However, because the technology is so cutting edge, Feakins said both sides want to minimize the risks and ensure no mistakes will be made.

In an earlier interview, Moss speculated that The Bahamas will derive approximately 10 percent of its energy from a renewable source, and 30 percent by 2030.  It will take time, but he contends this is a giant leap forward in the manner through which Bahamians, and indeed the world, receive their energy.

“This is a very exciting time for us,” he said.

“For OTEC, it’s an excellent test for the technology, and eventually it might help them use this process [in] other marginal, less ideal conditions.  For now, we are the ideal, but this could be a new beginning.”

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Last Updated on Thursday, 22 September 2011 19:44

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