750kW Solar Power Grid to Provide Backup for Critical Facilities in Northern Montserrat

Lookout Primary School Complex

Once the new 750kW 2000-panel solar power grid goes live, critical facilities in the North of the island will have electricity if and when Montserrat Utilities Ltd.’s  main station goes offline. This was disclosed by Owen Lewis, project manager for the second phase of the solar power project, which is expected to be completed at the end of June, 2021.

Lewis made his remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the nine million Eastern Caribbean dollar project funded through EDF11. Once completed, he said, the Lookout Primary School, the Glendon Hospital, the John A. Osborne Airport, and the Lookout Warden Facility will have backup connections to the grid. Homes which lie within the grid will also be able to receive power in cases of outages at the main station in Brades.

The solar project is part of the national energy policy released in 2016, titled “The Power to Change – Montserrat Energy Policy 2016 – 2030”. The 1 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery project is intended to:

  • Provide an environmentally responsible supplement for the existing diesel-only generation on the island
  • Provide a solar electricity source that supplies renewable electricity to Montserrat for reducing the amount of fossil fuels used on Montserrat.
  • Provide a generation capability that improves the cost effectiveness of delivery.

In March 2019, the PDM government commissioned phase one, a 250kW solar power grid in the Brades area, which is installed atop several buildings there, which was funded through EDF10. The new solar farm is to be located atop CARICOM Village in Lookout and within the site line of the John A. Osborne Airport.

Colin Fergus, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Works, Labour and Energy (MCWLE) said once this second phase is completed, Montserrat will have 1 megawatt of solar power which is 10 percent of the island’s power needs. It also contributes to the government’s commitment to look after the earth.

Father Vyphuis Blesses the Ground
Father Vyphuis Blesses the Ground as Minister Dr Samuel Joseph and Solar Power Project Manager Owen Lewis break ground for the 750kW farm. (Nerissa Golden Photo)

Rawlson Patterson, Director of Public Works called the groundbreaking “a monumental step towards sustainability” and reaching the target of 100% renewable energy grid penetration.

Excavation works is scheduled to begin in next the few days on the project, which is jointly owned by the Government of Montserrat and MUL. The engineering consulting contractors is Salt Energy and the four primary client engineers are Rocky Mountain Institute, AEES Ltd. of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, who are the solar tech experts, Asante Energy of Canada, the battery storage experts, and Barrett Energy Resources Group of Massachusetts who are providing aviation risk assessment expertise.

Lewis told Discover Montserrat that there have been many lessons learned from the first phase which helped them to design phase two.

The project manager said the challenge for receiving approval from the aviation authorities was to design a project which had a zero increase of risk to flight operations. The solar panels, which will sit 18 inches from the ground to the top panel will be laid out in five sets of 400 and positioned to ensure there is zero glare no matter the time of day, which could impact visibility for pilots flying in and out and also the control tower operations. Lewis, said they have successfully done this and the system is also designed to withstand winds of up to 180mph.

They have also future proofed the project for expansion with the acquisition of a battery inverter capable of handling additional panels and batteries. Each of the 2000 panels can generate 435 watts, be connected to an electrical energy storage facility to be located at the bottom of the hill and which will integrate with the MUL grid.

Lewis said they are grateful to the Royal Montserrat Defense Force (RMDF) who permitted use of the four acres previously designated for their use to be allocated to the solar plant. (The RMDF is still awaiting funding to construct and new facility as they have been without an official home since 2013.)

Officials at Groundbreaking of 750KW Solar Plant Project. (l to r) MCWLE Permanenent Secretary Colin Fergus, Project Manager Owen Lewis, Minister of MCWLE Dr. Samuel Joseph, Governor Andrew Pearce and Manager of MUL Kendall Lee (Nerissa Golden Photo)

Governor Andrew Pearce called it a “brilliant project” and an “excellent initiative. It’s incredible what we can do with this little field.”

Minister of MCWLE Dr. Samuel Joseph said the vision as laid out in the energy policy is that by 2030, Montserrat is 100% green including renewable energy sources and recycling what it consumes. He wants to see the island as one of the first globally to achieve this by being powered by solar, wind and geothermal sources.

An energy task force has been set up to look at alternative sources for the island to be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2030, in line with its vision. Fergus said the task force’s report is expected by mid March.