Earlier this week, President Obama reaffirmed the United States' commitment to investing in renewable energy during a National Clean Energy Summit. In his address, President Obama shared examples from several cities and states across the country whose investment in solar and wind power underscore how the United States has “become a major player in clean energy." The United States is leading global efforts to address climate change not only through domestic initiatives, but also by coordinating international pledges like the recent joint statement by President Obama and Brazilian President Rousseff agreeing to intensify collaboration to address climate change as well as through investing in renewable energy projects with some of our closest international partners. These types of investments in clean energy are increasingly enabled by marrying public and private efforts via organizations like the Overseas Private Investment Cooperation (OPIC), which mobilizes private capital to help solve critical development challenges and advance U.S. foreign policy.
In my five years at OPIC, I’ve traveled from Mexico to the Philippines and from South Africa to Jordan to help catalyze the more rapid deployment of renewable energy. But it wasn’t until recently that I visited one of our closest neighbors – an island nation which arguably stands to benefit most positively from generating more power from the sun and wind.
In June, I visited Jamaica to meet with local business and government officials, discuss potential projects and recognize OPIC’s first solar deal in the country: a $47 million loan to support a 20 megawatt solar photovoltaic facility in Clarendon, Jamaica. When complete, the facility will be one of the largest solar facilities in the Caribbean. I joined Jamaican Minister of Energy Phillip Paulwell and U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis G. Moreno for a signing ceremony.
OPIC Chief Operating Officer John Morton (left) and WRB Enterprises Chairman and CEO G. Robert Blanchard sign a $47 Million OPIC financing agreement to support WRB’s 20 megawatt Content Solar photovoltaic facility in Clarendon, Jamaica in January 2015. Jamaican Minister of Energy Phillip Paulwell and U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis G. Moreno look on.
This facility will power more than 20,000 Jamaican homes, while displacing more than three million gallons of fuel each year. Moreover, the reliable, sustainable energy will provide Jamaica’s economy important stability, and help the country make important progress toward energy security.
Earlier in the year, OPIC also broke ground on a $43 million loan to support construction of a 36-megawatt wind farm in Jamaica, the country’s largest private-sector renewable energy project. Together, these facilities will account for nearly 10 percent of the island’s generating capacity.
Both these milestone projects are supporting the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, a U.S. government effort announced by Vice President Biden in June 2014.
Many may not realize that energy security is a major challenge for the Caribbean. The region is largely dependent on relatively high-cost imported fuel and electricity. Small isolated economies and unattractive investment policies discourage investment necessary to build sustainable energy systems. As a result, the high cost of energy diverts resources away from economic development, reduces competitiveness, and renders the energy sectors of Caribbean nations vulnerable to supply shocks. The Caribbean Energy Security Initiative is helping to address these challenging’s by coordinating a portfolio of products designed to assisting in the transformation of the Caribbean’s electricity sector including increasing access to finance and maximizing the impact of existing donor efforts.
As part of the initiative, OPIC is dedicating resources to the Caribbean to help facilitate loans to unlock the supply of private sector capital for new projects. In addition, a number of bilateral, multilateral, and NGO organizations are also funding technical and policy assistance programs throughout the Caribbean. Overall, we look forward to seeing these efforts catalyzing tangible energy progress in the region.
But, we’re not only seeking out energy investments in the region, but other sectors as well.
So, while in Kingston, I had the chance to meet with 40 local business leaders for a roundtable discussion organized by the American Chamber of Commerce. Those who attended represented Jamaica’s agri-businesses, financial energy industry, real estate development, and other service industries. The discussions focused on reducing investment risks, mobilizing local capital, and attracting foreign investment.
In fact, one developer noted the importance that OPIC insurance played in facilitating the construction of Jamaica’s East-West Highway in 2003. OPIC backing allowed the company to obtain a $100 million loan from Wachovia Bank that has helped link many rural farming communities to markets in the capital.
I am grateful to have had the chance to travel to Jamaica. Being able to see first-hand the work OPIC is initiating, as well as the long-term results of past projects, is highly rewarding and gives great promise to the future progress of the Caribbean.
About the Author: John Morton is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
For more information:
- Read more about the U.S. government's commitment to addressing climate change, including through clean energy.
- Learn more about how the United States is Promoting Energy Security in the Caribbean.
- Read more about OPIC's ongoing energy, agricultural, and finacial service projects.
- View more photos from OPIC projects on Instagram.