- Community project reduces electricity bills by as much as 76% while empowering residents
With its sky blue and cream walls etched in lively murals, the St. Andrew Settlement community centre with a host of appreciated services stands out as the hub of Majesty Gardens, a lower income residential area in Jamaica’s capital city, Kingston.
The centre, located off the major Spanish Town Road thoroughfare in the Three Miles Development Area, hosts a school, clinic, dental services, library, cyber lab and woodworking business that are in high demand by a majority of the community’s 2, 739 residents. But the centre had also become a reluctant host to electricity connections from residents who were pulling from the power being legally supplied to the St Andrew Settlement.
A great need
The community centre’s first-hand experience with the challenge of spiked electricity bills caused by these connections did not go unnoticed by Faradaine Edwards, Projects Manager, Environmental Health Foundation (EHF), whose organization had been invited by the nation’s development and planning agency, the Planning Institute of Jamaica to serve the community under their Community Renewal Programme. “(We were invited to) come in and do behavioural change and parenting workshops … but when we came we saw there was another great need – that of the number of (irregular) electricity connections that were burdensome on the St Andrew Settlement.”
Established 66 years ago as an informal settlement, the centre’s host community, Majesty Gardens faces numerous challenges on its path to a sustainable future: A Community Renewal Programme census report of 2013 confirmed the challenge of irregular electricity connections but also highlighted poor housing infrastructure, extreme overcrowding, of up to 13 persons in a house, poor sanitation and inadequate garbage disposal.
Assessing the need to strike a delicate balance between releasing the centre from its high overhead costs while empowering residents on a sustainable development path, the Environmental Health Foundation wrote and submitted a proposal to the UNDP-implemented Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP).
Working with National Coordinator, Hyacinth Douglas, over the 2014 to 2016 project implementation period, the EHF and the Majesty Gardens community settled on the design and installation of a 10 Kilowatt solar energy system on the Community Centre’s roof to maximize solar exposure and capture; the training and certification of residents in basic solar energy PV design and installation; distribution of LED (Light-emitting Diode) lights – the most energy efficient light source - to aid with the reduction of energy consumption; and support to the development of an Action Plan for the community. The two year project ended in 2016 but its impact is still being recorded.
Signifcant reduction in electricity bills
Edwards reports that as a result of the installation of the solar energy system, the St Andrew Settlement’s energy bills were reduced by 76% initially, and then fell to about 42% by end December 2017 due to overcast weather conditions. By the end of December the centre was averaging 60% reduction in bills, Ms Edwards explained. The GEF SGP project reports also assess a reduction of over four tonnes in carbon emissions as a result of the installation. For the Community centre net metering is its next step and approval has already been granted by the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) (Jamaica’s major light and power company). This will allow the centre to credit any excess electricity generated to the customer’s account for future consumption.
The project also trained five young people, three of whom are now in university, the EHF Projects Manager reports. She says another trainee is working in the community with the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) to get the residents regularized as paying customers, while another trainee is now fully employed with the JPS.
Resident trainee, Carey Grant was mentored by Herman Shim of the Caribbean Maritime Institute Trust Fund who led the selection and installation of the solar system and the training of the residents. Grant is now an instructor in the training programme. “The experience was great… “Grant says. “The fact that I was once an inner-city youth… know how the rough life was. By knowing this technology, it take me to level where I’m actually working now to the point where I can sustain myself.”
Motivated by heloping others
“The real (motivation) that gave me a passion for this project is that I can help others in the situation that I was once in.” Carey Grant has high praises for his mentor Herman Shim who encouraged him to trade his ‘rude boy’ tight pants look for a more tailored appearance. ”No you need to change this image and look like this,” he laughs, remembering Shim’s sage advice.
Today, Carey Grant focuses on the practical aspects of the training while Herman Shim does the theory. He says because he speaks the students’ language so to speak, it has been found to be a more effective way of communicating the concepts of the course, with impact on pass rates and performance.
Through young people like Grant, the project may yet reap larger dividends for the future. He says he plans to leverage his love of electronics and training in LED installation into entrepreneurship. He recently started a small company and plans to take old conventional units and convert them to LED lights. He also plans to hire young persons he has helped train.
‘Mr real passion and drive is to draw them into the company so that what we have taught them does not go to waste but they can come into a company and utilise that talent”, Grant says.