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More Energy from BELCOGEN Could Offset Energy Crisis

Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) says that increased energy production at its BELCOGEN power plant can help offset Belize’s current energy crisis, with the right level of investments.

Donnie Tun, power plant superintendent at BELCOGEN, explained that Belcogen operates two boilers with a capacity of 90 tons per hour, utilizing bagasse—a byproduct of sugarcane—as fuel. The generated steam powers two turbines: a 15 MW extracting condensing turbine and a 12.5 MW back pressure steam turbine, resulting in a combined installed capacity of 27.5 MW. Despite this capacity, fluctuations in cane supply limit the plant's actual generation to around 24 MW during the milling season.

BSI's Finance Director Shawn Chavarria
BSI's Finance Director Shawn Chavarria

During the milling season, BELCOGEN exports an average of 11.5 MW to the national grid, which is roughly 10 percent of the country’s current output. However, that amount drops to around 9 MW after the milling season. Based on the supply of bagasse, Belcogen can keep a steady supply to the grid for one to three months.

Director of Finance for BSI, Shawn Chavarria, said that the company has been reaching out to the government to discuss the possibility of Belcogen producing more energy for the national grid. He explained that doing so would require expanding the plant's current capacity, but such expansion has several issues that need to be addressed.

BELCOGEN's Power Plant Superintendent Donnie Tun

"Could we sell more? The answer is yes," Chavarria said. "But there would have to be some changes that will have to be made. We would have to increase the capacity of the factory and the co-gen. We might have to think about putting in another turbine, another boiler. We also have to work with stakeholders to see if we can get more cane to the factory."

He noted that the expansion plans hinge on securing a stable cane supply of at least 1.3 million tons annually, which was peak production back in 2019. Chavarria says that drought conditions have severely impacted the crop yield for cane farmers and that interventions would need to be put in place to ensure a consistent supply.

“Even without expanding capacity, if we can get back up to the 1.3 million tons of cane, we could sell more energy in the off-season,” Chavarria added.

Beyond physical expansion, Chavarria emphasizes the importance of commercial agreements. "You want certainty, and you can get that certainty if you have a commercial agreement in place for the purchase of the sugarcane, which is needed not only to make the sugar to pay the growers but also to sell the electricity to the grid," he explains.

Furthermore, an agreement with Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), approved by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), is essential for the sale of additional energy. "If you're gonna invest money, then you have to have that ability to make a reasonable rate of return," Chavarria notes, highlighting the financial considerations necessary for such investments.

BSI has several interventions underway to support cane farmers in increasing their crop yield, including a project that will see farmers planting climate-resilient species of sugar cane. The company says that these projects may see results in three to four years.

Due to the high temperatures, local demand for energy has peaked in the range of 125 MW; however, the country’s current generation capacity stands at around 95 MW.

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