photo: Harriot Voncken

THE BOTTOM – 6288 Solar panels provide Saba with electricity. On sunny days they produce 2.1 megawatts: 40 percent of the island’s needs. On such days the diesel generator is turned off from eight in the morning till five thirty in the afternoon. However the generator will have to run more than usual to provide power in the upcoming months.

The solar panels which were installed during the first phase will be dismantled because the foundations have to be replaced; pull tests showed that they were not secure enough to withstand a major hurricane.

Costs not yet known
The costs of the new foundations are not known yet; the tender process is underway. The park is fully subsidized at the moment, partly by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the European Development Fund.

Saban Rodrigo Tupal is in the area often. “It’s good that they are improving the foundations. The solar panels shouldn’t fly through the air during a hurricane.” He is pleased with the park: “it’s a tourist attraction, I’ve not experienced any interruptions and our bills will eventually go down.”

Waiting on a lower bill
Alida Heilbron from Windwardside hasn’t noticed any of the promised reductions in her bills. “I hope it changes in the long run, but I doubt it.” She likes the transition to solar power. “Years ago there was talk of wind turbines on Mount Scenery. Nature Foundation put a stop to that idea. The solar park is ugly, but rainforest did not need to be cut down to accommodate it.”

Mark Zagers from the Saba Electric Company (SEC) is tasked with the finances of the solar park. According to him a reduction in costs will take time. “Because of the two hurricanes, we kept the price of electricity low, that’s why there wasn’t a difference in the beginning. The price has gone down a bit now.”

Dexter Johnson, the managing director of Saba Electric at the solar park. Picture: Harriot Voncken

SEC will pre-finance the new foundations while it awaits the decision in a court case brought on against the contractor. “A court case has been brought against the first contractor to determine whether or not they need to reimburse the new foundations”, says Dexter Johnson, the managing director of the SEC. Because a court case can go on for years and the hurricane season is about to start, they can’t wait for the decision to come down.

According to project facilitator Justin Simmons all of the solar panels should be in use by the end of 2019, if the hurricane season allows. “It takes a lot of planning. Materials need to be imported by ship and the harbor is on the other side of the island. All the containers are emptied first and trucks transport the materials to the park. And if something breaks, an external repairman has to be flown in.”

Glare in the sun

The solar park is situated right next to the airport, so the SEC is investigating glare reports. Only one pilot has reported having issues with glare as of now.