Jamaica studies first pumped-storage project

The Government of Jamaica is studying the implementation of a pumped-storage plant and water system project to guarantee water and electricity supply to cope with projected shortfalls.

During his 2022-23 budget presentation on 17 March, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told legislators that the Government had received an unsolicited proposal from an unnamed consortium of local and international companies, which is “undergoing technical and due diligence reviews”.

“Subject to satisfactory completion of the reviews, the Government plans to designate the project as a ‘Jamaica 60 National Development Project’ and enter into direct negotiation with the consortium to fast track implementa”, Holness said, referring to this year being Jamaica’s 60th as an independent nation. Acknowledging that the scheme is not yet definitely proceed, Holness continued “We must explore it; we must see if it can be done. If it can be done, then we will pursue it.”

The Prime Minister explained that this innovative and transformational project, which he had highlighted in his budget presentation in 2020, would entail pumping desalinated seawater from the Middlesex Aquifer in St Ann Parish into reservoirs at high elevations, using solar power, and then channelling the water back down into downstream reservoirs to meet peak electricity demand.

In addition to generating clean electricity, the project would have several other benefits. Holness noted that the project has the potential to solve the water scarcity problem in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) by providing a third source of stored water supply to complement the Mona reservoir and Her­mitage dam and reservoir. “Although most of the available water resources are located within the hydrologic basins on the north side of the island, the current and future demands for water is greatest in the basins along the south coast, where most of the irrigated areas, urban centres and major industries are located,” he said.

The Prime Minister further noted that the project will have a significant cross-cutting impact, as it will also provide climate change mitigation and adaptation benefits. Holness said the project, along with other proposals, would help Jamaica achieve and even surpass its renewable energy goals, and reduce the threat of economic shocks caused by fossil fuel price fluctuations. A 10 per cent reduction in imported oil could save Jamaica around US$ 150 million annually.

The country’s energy system is highly dependent on imported fossil fuels. “Renewables currently account for 13 per cent of our energy-generation mix, and our stated target for renewables is 30 per cent by 2030. This will still leave us extremely vulnerable to global oil price shocks. The ‘Pumped Storage Hydroelectric and Water Systems Project’, along with other proposals on the table, could move our renewables portion to 50 per cent,” Holness said.