The ‘greening’ of Cayman: slow, steady, complicated

In the next 90 days, the Caribbean will take another incremental step toward sustainable consumption as Cayman’s John Felder ships to Cuba the first electric cars in the island’s history.  

He will send five vehicles to Cayo Largo, the small tourist redoubt off the island’s southwest coast, offering pristine beaches, reef diving and wildlife preserves. 

“It’s the first test market for electric vehicles,” Felder says. “They want to make it an eco-friendly tourist destination.” The project includes construction of a $1,200 charging station, and strong hopes for nationwide adoption of electric vehicles. 

The development goes to the heart of why Felder got into the business of selling electric vehicles: “This is the future of the automotive industry. Fossil fuels are just not sustainable. 

“I mean, look at China an example of a worst-case scenario,” he warns. As recently as the mid-’80s, private-car ownership was illegal in China. By 2015, however, in the face of a sustained economic boom, superhighways slice through cities, gobbling ever-larger chinks of countryside, destroying urban landmarks and ploughing under farmland, as 5 million vehicles clog Beijing roads alone, joining coal-burning emissions to turn the air brown. 

Felder started selling electric vehicles in 2009, four years after opening Cayman Automotive. Now in eight islands across the Caribbean, he offers several models from seven manufacturers – two Japanese, two American, Italian, Norwegian and Chinese – ranging in price from $20,000 to $36,000. 

His biggest sellers are the Nissan Leaf and models from Think City and Wheego. He recently sold the first Tesla electric vehicle in the Caribbean and a California-built Zero electric motorcycle. 

The economics of operating an electric vehicle, essentially, are simple. Gas prices are falling, but so are the costs of lithium-ion batteries. 

“The average cost to charge a car” – at any of Cayman’s five charging stations – “is $4.50 per 100 miles,” Felder says, inviting consumers to do the math: “An average car gets 20 miles per gallon, and that means five gallons to go 100 miles.” A gallon of gas costs at least $4. 

Charging stations are the sine qua non of the electric car business. Cayman boasts five – from East End’s Reef Resort to West Bay’s Cayman Motor Museum – while another is under construction near Health City. Six more are proposed between Kaibo and West Bay’s Foster’s Republix. 

The first charging station opened in 2012 at Camana Bay, which was also the first purchaser of an electric car, the American-built Gem, acquired in 2009 by the security division. Town planners opened a second charging station the same year.  

 

Dart embraces sustainable initiatives  

Dart Realty has never looked back, leading the island in sustainable initiatives, installing rooftop solar arrays on its Nexus Way headquarters building; atop the new 18 Forum Lane, opening in the summer with anchor tenant PwC; in Market Street, across from Jessie’s Juice Bar; and at the corner of Market Street and Forum Lane, helping fuel both charging stations. 

Solar arrays also power the street lighting at the Cayman Islands Yacht Club and the Camana Bay roundabout. 

Other sustainable Dart projects include the $3.6 million, LEED-certified, single-family residence at Salt Creek, Belle Verde; the island’s largest solar project at the Arts and Recreation Centre; itself soon to be eclipsed by arrays at the Kimpton Hotel. 

Another 168-panel project is complete and, pending approvals, will soon open at the Mourant Ozannes building, No. 94 Solaris. 

“Dart Realty is proceeding with an ongoing project to install photovoltaic systems on Camana Bay’s largest buildings,” said a company spokeswoman. “The systems are projected to offset installation costs with energy savings in approximately five years.” 

The man behind most of the installations is James Whittaker, CEO and founder of GreenTech Cayman Islands and chairman of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association. 

The Kimpton, opening in 2017, will replace Camana Bay’s ARC as Cayman’s largest solar array. Whittaker says the hotel’s 503 SunPower panels will yield 169,740 watts, all of it sent directly into the Caribbean Utility Company’s Consumer Owned Renewable Energy (CORE) program, which encourages individual renewable-energy installations to interconnect with the national grid. 

“These panels are connected to the grid via the CORE program and not directly to the mechanical systems or appliances of the building,” Whittaker says, “so it feeds its power back into the grid itself and CUC pays for that power generation. Thereafter, the building uses power from the grid for all parts of its operation same as any other.” 

He said the new hotel would save approximately US$2.9 million over the 25-year life of the SunPower system, which he described as the “most-powerful and most-efficient panels in the world,” with the lowest “degradation rate,” by which output slowly declines over time. 

“These are super high efficiency so they generate on average 36 percent more power per panel and 60 percent more energy per square meter than other traditional solar panels,” Whittaker says. 

 

Geothermal cooling  

Meanwhile, developer Naul Bodden’s NCB Group is employing another sustainable resource, geothermal cooling, in design and construction of commercial buildings, private homes and apartment blocks. 

The technology is relatively simple, says John Van Ryswyk, owner of NCB affiliate GeoCayman, exploiting the fact that the earth absorbs 47 per cent of the sun’s energy, and remains at a constant 55 degrees throughout the year. 

In cold weather, an indoor “ground source heat pump” extracts warmth from the earth and transfers it into the building. In hot weather, the function is reversed: The pump extracts heat from the building and transfers it into the earth. 

A steadily circulating stream of Freon inside the pump absorbs the heat from the building. The pump pushes the hot water into a network of vertical looped pipes, bored 150 feet into the earth. 

Caribbean conditions differ slightly from North America’s 47/55 absorption constant, Van Ryswyk says, and because Cayman’s water table is shallow, the subterranean pipes are mostly immersed. Since heat moves much faster and easier through water than air, the machines work less than conventional systems. 

The newly cool water recycles though the heat pump, absorbing more of the heat and humidity that has been removed from the building while the pump blows cool air.  

Electricity is still consumed, but in fractional amounts. The most-efficient systems achieve a 1:4 ratio: For every $1 spent to power fans and pumps, $4 of cooling is delivered. The best gas furnaces achieve 94 percent efficiency; the best geothermal cooling can achieve 400 percent. The heat in a geothermal system also provides what Van Ryswyk calls a “heat assist,” aiding the building’s water heater. 

Since the heat pumps are quiet, they can operate comfortably indoors, which also extends the life of the equipment by as much as fivefold. 

Savings are significant. Air conditioning comprises 80 percent of Cayman electricity bills. Geothermal reduces that between 30 percent and 40 percent, says Van Ryswyk. 

The NCB Group in November won the Regional Investor of the Year award for environmental initiatives from the Caribbean Export Development Agency and Caribbean Association of Investment Promotion Agencies.  

The NCB Group is involved with more than a dozen local geothermal installations: Flowers Mandarin Apartment Building; Jacques Scott Kraft Warehouse Building; private homes in Savannah, Grand Harbour and Crystal Harbour; at least four buildings at the new Clarion Sea Residences; West Bay’s Cracked Conch restaurant; homes, apartment buildings and a club house at Cypress Pointe North; and the four buildings comprising George Town’s new Cayman Technology Centre/Security Centre, which will boast the largest “closed-loop” geothermal system in the Caribbean.  

 

Ocean thermal energy  

While the public becomes increasingly aware of geothermal, and solar energy gains a solid commercial profile, a third renewable-energy source, ocean thermal energy conversion, continues to seek acceptance, but may be within three months of a breakthrough. 

The Caribbean Utilities Company and Baltimore’s OTEC International hope to complete in June an environmental impact assessment for three floating platforms off North Side’s Old Man Bay, generating 25 megawatts of electricity. 

The project has been in discussion for a couple of years, looking at design, location, scheduling and practicality, especially with a technology that, while relatively simple and experimentally established, is commercially unproven. 

Ocean thermal technology is similar to geothermal technology, exploiting the difference between surface temperatures and those at greater depths.  

OTEC plans comprise a small engine mounted on a 206-foot x 139-foot barge with a 20-foot draft, anchored between 0.6 miles and 1.2 miles offshore. The mechanism draws 80-degree surface water into a chamber, boiling liquid ammonia. The gas turns onboard turbines, generating electricity, transferred by cables to an onshore CUC interconnection. 

Meanwhile, in a separate chamber, 40-degree seawater piped from 3,770 feet, re-liquefies the ammonia gas, driving the recycling process. Each barge will generate between 7 megawatts and 10MW per year. 

The OTEC EIA will yield a formal Environmental Statement, submitted to an Environmental Committee, which includes both the managing director and deputy managing director of the Electricity Regulatory Authority. 

A period of public consultation will ensue, followed by a formal Power Purchase Agreement between the Baltimore company and CUC. The regulatory authority will review the PPA, hopefully stamping its approval, triggering the single-platform initial phase of the project. 

Eileen O’Rourke, OTEC International chief operating officer, said one platform would replace 2.9 million gallons of diesel fuel per year – out of the 30 million gallons CUC burns annually. 

“Assuming permits are approved by mid-year, OTEC International intends to start construction in 2015 and operations by 2Q 2017,” O’Rourke told the Journal. 

Wendy Williams, environmental assessment officer at the Department of the Environment, cautions that the project will also require planning approval and a coastal works license, while designers will have to overcome nearly 160 complaints filed by 33 objectors to the EIA’s terms of reference. 

OTEC is similar to the saltwater air-conditioning system planned for East End’s Health City in 2017. Cold seawater, pumped from depths of 3,000 feet near High Rock, will replace traditional Freon gas in the complex’s air-conditioning network, circulating the water through the machinery and back to its source. 

While construction costs for the 3MW SWAC system will run into “the millions of dollars,” according to Jeremy Feakins, chairman of Pennsylvania-based designer, builder and financier OTE Corporation, it will rapidly pay for itself. 

Health City Director Gene Thompson told the Journal in November he expected reductions between 70 percent and 80 percent on his air-conditioning bill, which itself comprises between 40 percent and 50 percent of electricity consumption at the “city.” OTE says the system can cut power consumption as much as 90 percent. 

 

Wind power – not so much  

Conspicuous by its absence in local plans is wind power, which is plagued by site restrictions in Grand Cayman due to the Airport Authority’s Doppler Radar system. By contrast, the US Department of Energy predicts that by 2050, wind power will supply 35 percent of America’s electricity demand. 

 

Reduce, recycle, reuse  

Renewable energy is not the only kind of green initiative, however. Reduce, recycle and reuse has long been an admonitory cry among environmentalists, although a concept only now gaining attention locally. 

Householders have only a couple of options for recycling tin cans, plastic and glass, most in the parking lots of Foster’s Food Fair and Kirk Supermarket – and a station in Camana Bay. 

The Humane Society on North Sound Road is the only place to “recycle” newspapers, and that is not so much reprocessing newsprint as it is reusing it before discarding in the local Dumpster. 

“We use it in the kennels, for the puppies in the cages,” said Jason Jairam, shelter manager. 

Shelter capacity is 200 cats and dogs, and Jairam says he uses between 300 pounds and 500 pounds of newsprint in a week, lining cages and mopping up spilled water. 

Because it’s the only place on the island to recycle newspaper, Jairam says, it comes in by the hundreds of pounds from dozens of companies and individuals. Pinnacle Media, DMS, Ugland House and “people all over the island” are among the contributors, and, he says “you can call us to come and collect it.” 

Supplies are irregular – “sometimes we have too much and sometimes we run out,” he says – and when the animals are finished with the newsprint, he has little alternative: “We put it in the regular bin. It’s indirectly recycled,” Jairam says, but it ends up in the George Town Landfill anyway. 

Tania Johnson, public education & promotions officer at the Department of Environmental Health, which operates the 71-acre George Town Landfill, says newspaper recycling is both expensive and complicated because “it must be kept sheltered.” The weight of the paper increases dramatically as it absorbs moisture, boosting shipping costs. 

Not only gathering materials, but paying local port fees and a variety of U.S. government charges also contributes to costs, and in the case of cardboard, Johnson says, the prices for the commodity are marginal, $85 per ton, meaning the volume needed to make collection worthwhile is enormous. 

Plastic, she says, suffers similarly, while the department is constrained by limited budgets. 

The landfill stockpiles 225 tons per day of all types of solid waste and recyclable products. Slightly more than half that total is new solid waste. At April 2014, the landfill managed 56,000 tons of waste per year, with a recycling rate of 14,800 tons per year. 

The DEH recurrent annual budget is $8.3 million, $6.5 million of which goes to solid waste management. The budget for the department’s Environmental Health Section is $1.8 million. 

“We need more resources,” Johnson says.  

“Whatever the government gives us is what we have to work with, and that is one of the main reasons why more is not being done,” she says. “We have limited staff. We need more crew and extra trucks.” 

DEH also oversees 10 stations for recycling tin cans – at Kirk’s and Hurley’s supermarkets and at every Foster’s except East End; at the DEH headquarters in the Cayman Islands Environmental Centre at the end of North Sound Road; at the Government Administration Building; at St. Ignatius School; and at the North Side Civic Centre. 

Camana Bay operates its own tin and glass recycling station in the remote parking lot near the cinema. The developer has had a glass pulverizer since April 2012, with a capacity of 1,200 tons per year, 1,500 pounds per hour, said a spokeswoman, and has already reprocessed all the windows from the razed Marriott Courtyard Hotel, recycling them into fill back at its replacement Kimpton Hotel. 

In a $30,000 initiative, she said, Camana Bay, by the end of the year, will remove every fluorescent light in the community, replacing each with low-consumption LED bulbs. Already, 5,000 tubes have been crushed, sent to a U.S. facility for recycling, while, she says, keeping mercury and phosphor out of the landfill. 

“We have recycled more than 1,000 cubic yards of glass at Camana Bay. The aluminum cans go to a third party for recycling after we collect them.” 

While much of the glass is supplied by individuals, a great deal comes from Junk, a recycler founded in 2012 by Dave and Mark Connolly, who sold it to their brother Winston, now George Town MLA and councilor to the Minster of Education. 

 

The dump  

Last Christmas, Connolly brought in Island Air Managing Director Marcus Cumber, and longtime accountant, founding member of the UDP, former West Bay MLA, former Minister of Education and former Deputy Premier Rolston Anglin. 

“We are about to take this company big, to where it should have been a long time ago,” Anglin told the Journal. Junk’s chief aspiration at this point is to keep refuse out of the George Town Landfill, a moniker he disparages as a misnomer, intended to allay the social stigma of operating a “dump.” 

“We don’t have a sanitary landfill,” he says. “In reality, we have something closer to a dump, and there is a desperate need for a properly engineered landfill, something that is monitored and lined to prevent leaching,” Anglin says. 

DEH’s Johnson says the “dump” was started in the 1980s as an informal site tucked away at the end of Seymour Drive, where people discarded household rubbish – and environmental protection was not an issue. Few homes were nearby and the area was loosely operated according to “Best Practices” at the time. 

“Things have changed,” Johnson says. “We inherited this site and now have to deal with what we were given.” 

“No one,” says Anglin, “is doing anything about diverting trash from Mt. Trashmore. It’s our biggest green issue.” 

Junk, he says is the “only true recycling company” in Cayman, handling not just industrial oils, metals and appliances, but enormous volumes of household glass, cardboard and plastic. 

“Cardboard and plastic are the biggest things in the dump, and we are the only ones recycling it. 

“The margins are low and these prices fluctuate; they go up and down all the time” – and shipping costs are additional. 

“That’s why we have had to have a heart-to-heart with some of our partners,” he says. “Some of them were just baling this stuff and dumping it at the dump.” 

When Anglin initially approached them, they wanted him to buy the material until he offered to take the mess off their hands and “just get it out of here.” 

“We sort and bale the materials we collect and export them to overseas partners,” Anglin explains. “The deflated price of oil has caused the markets to be extremely depressed, but in the commodities business you have to ride out the storms and hope for better days ahead. 

“The fact that we have to collect, sort, bale and export our commodities is the reason we have to charge for collection of recyclables. Bottom line: It is an extremely costly endeavor to get our commodities to market, as we are not cherry picking like the scrap metals dealers.” 

Between November last year and February 2015, Junk collected 107 tons of plastics, aluminum cans, glass containers, assorted paper and cardboard. 

“We have sent five 40-foot containers overseas and used the crushed glass on Grand Cayman in construction,” Anglin says. 

Junk ships the material to “partners” in Miami, and earns “a very small profit on plastics and basically break[s] even on cardboard or paper at present — once the cost of shipping is taken out. 

“Our partners consolidate our materials with theirs and send them onto the Far East, mainly China and India, to be recycled back into plastics and paper,” Anglin says. 

Sensing a rising wave, however, Anglin, Cumber and Connolly plan further investment in Junk, bringing it to a “high six figures,” adding “six or seven” public collection stations to the three or four supermarket parking lots, expanding their 100 business and household clients, acquiring at least one more vehicle to augment the single flatbed truck and, surely, expanding the eight-member workforce.  

“The client base will explode once we get our facilities and trucks, he says,” while a longer-term project is to cultivate overseas relationships to minimize the middlemen. 

“This is worth our effort,” Anglin says, “because we believe that our new community recycling depots will become very popular, and more and more condos, strata, restaurants and office complexes will sign up and get our volumes up substantially. 

 

Everybody’s responsibility  

“Recycling is everybody’s business and we must alleviate the environmental threat called Mt. Trashmore. We cannot sit idly on the sidelines and wait for government to solve all of our problems. 

“On another note it would be good if government would provide some duty waivers and concessions on real recycling equipment. We believe that would be a good public policy.” 

At DEH, Johnson is also hoping for the future: That original 1980 dump has grown beyond anyone’s expectations, “and there are more people now, and we want to have a plan in place by 2017,” that – through contracts and commitments – will make impossible the kind of on-again/off-again politics, starting and stopping government efforts with every election cycle. 

“It used to all get scrapped and they would go back to the beginning and start from scratch again,” Johnson said.  

“Little progress has been made because of that. 

“Hopefully, with whatever is designed, the next government will progress with it.” 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Well, the amount of comments tells you how much people in this country care about turning this island into a real paradise it can be. Kudos to all who care and were mentioned in this article.

  2. I wonder if Cuba would buy our plastic and cardboard? A Cuban Caymanian some years ago sold a barge years ago full of cardboard.. It took some time to get the money but things are changing in Cuba. They needed cardboard in the past.
    Roper would be the best person to check with to get the right person to do business with.

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