Jamaica grants OK for natural gas power plant

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KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — A Hong Kong-based company has been granted a license for what would be a major new power plant in Jamaica, the Caribbean island's energy minister announced Tuesday.

Phillip Paulwell said Energy World International is to supply 381 megawatts of natural gas-fired generating capacity for Jamaica's power grid. He called the project a "game changer" for the tropical country, which is almost entirely dependent on imported petroleum and diesel fuel.

The project would be the biggest power plant in Jamaica and be implemented over a period of 26 months, Paulwell said.

Paulwell said the proposed plant is "among the first steps toward reducing the price for electricity to the productive sectors and the wider Jamaica population."

High energy costs have long been identified as a major reason for Jamaica's chronically sluggish economy. Jamaicans pay 42 cents per kilowatt hour and the island's sole power utility, Jamaica Public Service Co. Ltd., has recently applied for a non-fuel tariff increase that could result in its residential customers soon paying an average 21 percent more.

Paulwell said other benefits of the project include fuel-source diversification, a step toward a future with cleaner energy, and improved competitiveness and job creation.

Energy World did not respond to an email seeking comment about the license.

The long-discussed project has been muddled in controversy and delays. Last year, various private sector groups and watchdog agencies criticized the evaluation process for the project.

In September, the island's contractor general, Dirk Harrison, criticized Paulwell for meeting Energy World representatives and said the minister had made "misleading" statements in Parliament about the rankings of the four bidding companies. He also asserted Energy World was included in the evaluation process after the closing date.

After that criticism, Jamaica's utilities regulator awarded the project to another bidder, Azurest-Cambridge Power. But when that company failed to meet financing requirements, Energy World clinched the project as the regulator's second-ranked bidder.

On its website, Energy World said it has gas and power operations in Indonesia and produces gas, power and liquid natural gas in Australia.

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