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Wind, solar powernot feasible—T&TEC

Published: 
Thursday, March 29, 2018
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General Manager at T&TEC, Kelvin Ramsook, responds to a question from the Committee. At right is T&TEC chairman Keith Sirju. Photo by:OFFICE OF THE PARLIAMENT

The Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) is $1.5 billion behind annually in meeting its financial commitments, of that amount $900 million is owed to the National Gas Company for natural gas which is used by the three power generating plants to generate electricity.

T&TEC officials appeared before the Joint Select Committee on Local Authorities, Service Commissions and Statutory Authorities, along with officials of the Ministry of Public Utilities and the Regulated Industries Commission yesterday.

T&TEC general manager Kelvin Ramsook made a case for a rate increase.

Ramsook, responding to questions from the members of the JSC, observed that when the Commission received its last rate hike in the period 2006-2011 “we did meet all our commitments,” but he said, “beyond 2011 we started running into problems and it got more difficult to meet our commitments.”

T&TEC purchases gas from the NGC which it supplies to three power producers Trinity, Powergen and TGU to generate electricity. The Committee heard that it costs T&TEC 25 cents to produce a unit of electricity, and the utility sells electricity at 36 cents per unit, “that margin between 36 cents and 25 cents is what is used to deal with administrative expenses, including salaries and wages,” the committee heard.

Ramsook said 65-67 per cent of T&TEC’s costs is for conversion related to generation, “23 per cent of the cost is salaries and wages and the difference is where you buy material and so on.”

Executive Director of the Regulated Industries Commission Dr James Lee Young said the fact that because several years had passed since T&TEC had its last rate review had contributed to the Commission “running a deficit, between the cost of what they sell and the actual cost of operation,” that is why, he said, there is need for rate reviews to be done on a regular basis.

According to the RIC Act, such reviews must be done “no later than every five years,” Lee Young said.

But Committee member Nigel De Freitas expressed concern that the Commission could be “more profitable” if it looked at reducing its dependence on natural gas and look at the use of solar farms to generate electricity.

Ramsook said T&TEC “has constantly been looking at technology.” Currently, he said, T&TEC’s rate which is four cents per kilowatt hour “is the lowest in the world, when you look at other options you get a different result.”

T&TEC assistant general manager Courtney Mark noted that the Commission did give consideration to solar farms, which he said would mean the installation of 150 megawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells to convert sunlight directly into electricity.

Mark said, “When we looked at the economic payback period it would take 20 years approximately and the amount of acreage required is 1,500 acres of land.”

But Mark said while solar power would save 12 cents per unit on gas it will not provide the capacity for peak demand, “at night when you need electricity.”

T&TEC chairman Keith Sirju said currently two per cent of the population do not receive an electricity supply because of issues of “remoteness and viability. We are looking at the feasibility of using solar power for those very remote areas where maintenance cost is very high.”

He identified those areas as “the extremes of Blanchisseuse and some other parts of the island.”

The almost 3,000 households without electricity, Sirju said “may be a captive market for the solar energy. A project is being considered as to whether electricity can be supplied in that manner for that two per cent.”

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