ALMOST a year after net billing was suspended, there are indications that the programme is to resume, although Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is yet to set a timeline.
He said recommendations have been made to the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) to resume processing licences. But, before that can happen, the Electricity Lighting Act must be amended and the Jamaica Solar Energy Association (SEA) raised concerns that nothing has been done to have the legislation amended.
At Wednesday’s national conference for the development of an energy services company industry in Jamaica, Paulwell said that the Government is committed to reopening net billing.
He, however, explained that while the law names the Energy Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) as the body responsible for regulating new generation capacity, it was felt that it (net billing) is not appropriately placed at ESET, and that the OUR is expected to resume processing net billing licences.
So far, more than 300 licences have been issued, but solar energy providers have not been able to interconnect to the JPS grid since May of last year.
David Barrett, president of SEA, says the association’s membership is still in a state of confusion.
“It’s static now (the sector) because people have no entity to get a licence from, they don’t know who to go to. Some persons have gone to the OUR or the JPS (Jamaica Public Service company) but they can’t do it because of the obvious reasons,” he told the Jamaica Observer last Thursday.
Over the months, entrepreneurs in the solar energy sector have complained bitterly of suffering millions in losses after the JPS stopped net billing to carry out an assessment of the pilot. The review was completed by the United States’ National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the report made public in June, but all grid interconnection for new net billing projects islandwide have still remained on hold.
Solar energy providers say the prolonged suspension has dealt their outfits a serious blow, arguing, too, that the JPS has too much power over the arrangement and that the Government needs to act decisively on the issue.
Barrett said the members are neither pleased with the pace of the process nor the new conditions that are being established.
“What has been decided is that the cap is to be five megawatts instead of 11 as it would have been in the previous phase, and that the cap for the individual locations will remain as they are. The association is not too happy about that because we feel that there is easy opportunity to increase potential for renewables in Jamaica without disturbing the grid in any way,” he told the Observer earlier this month.
Additionally, Barrett expressed disappointment that the association had not been invited to the table when the new cap was being set. “So we don’t have the information that fed into the decision-making process,” he stated.
Net billing permits JPS customers, who own renewable energy generators, to produce electricity for personal use and to sell excess energy to the light and power monopoly at wholesale prices, which are set by the OUR.