Author: Jeevan Robinson | Date: 11 March 2014
Energy costs for developing countries is one of the biggest factors that impact their sustainable development. Sustainable development in its truest forms looks to ascertain how this development impacts the wider environment, alongside other socio-economic concerns. Renewable energy resources therefore pay a huge part in the discussion about sustainable development and its importance for the future development of developing regions such as the Caribbean.
Many have said that geothermal energy can be a major game changer for Montserrat. The sentiment as expressed sounds romantic, but to drill down on its meaning, it is vital that we quantify what exactly geothermal energy, as a renewable energy resource, will mean for Montserrat and the islands future development plans.
In its simplest terms, geothermal energy can be described as heat energy from within the earth. It aids the sustainable development discussion because it is deemed environmentally friendly and if vast enough, can last a very long time. Additionally, research has shown, in many countries that currently have active geothermal energy plants, that this industry can provide long-term, well-paying jobs. Montserrat thus can be well served from the ongoing development of the island’s geothermal energy resource.
It goes though beyond stating that geothermal energy can be a game changer for Montserrat. What is more poignant in my mind is that the geothermal energy resource for Montserrat must be managed right. Sustainable development models I am aware have been presented, re-worked and discussed for Montserrat over the years. Geothermal energy exploration has been injected into this debate and has the potential to transform our development landscape.
The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) states that sustainable development must integrate environmental stewardship, economic development and the well-being of all people - not just for today but for countless generations to come.
Traditional economic models will make their contribution to the New Montserrat; construction, new agricultural technologies and the like, but real sustainable development for the future will come in the form of new and expandable resources such as Geothermal energy. Fiber optic technology also can do wonders for the island’s future economic prospects.
Montserrat has unfortunately gotten the airport project wrong. From what sources are informing this media house, it is alleged that there are intensive discussions regarding funding for the Port Project. It is no coincidence that a Sheikh from Dubai visited Montserrat recently. Frankly, I do not think that is a bad thing at all in seeking investment outside of traditional Dfid/European sources. But those thoughts and those on fibre optic technology will have to be separate to this article looking at geothermal.
There has been murmurs and complaints from the inception of the geothermal project on Montserrat. Whilst it is fair that full accountability to the people of Montserrat be given as to how their geothermal energy resource is being developed and managed, Montserratians – both locally and abroad – en masse, must seek to get behind geothermal energy development for the island.
Two production wells have been under testing for the past three to four months and grumblings are happening ever more loudly as to what is going on with the report on the testing of these wells. Here is what the Minister of Communication and Works, Hon Charles Kirnon had to say recently about geothermal energy and the current testing:
MNI Alive made an enquiry to the Premier of Montserrat, Reuben T Meade regarding the same. The Premier more or less confirmed what Minister Kirnon stated but in addition he stated to MNI Alive; “..the long term testing ends around the end of March. Preliminary results from both wells on the short term testing is showing the potential of 2megawatts. Phase three has commenced in the meantime to include a review of the transmission system to Brades. However, until the facility at Brades is completed the geothermal power cannot be utilized. Both projects must run in tandem or at least geothermal a bit behind the Brades plant.”
Geothermal energy is an expensive undertaking in its set up, testing and eventual conversation of the heat energy into electricity.
Something that both Premier Meade stated Minister Kirnon caught my attention, in terms of building the facilities to convert the heat from geothermal energy into electricity. The Department for International Development (Dfid) were generous in helping to assist with the funding for the testing and drilling of the production wells, but to move forward with this project, who will meet the wider additional costs? Who will be the new partners to bring into reality the full benefits of geothermal energy for all of Montserrat’s future.
Currently, the US government's Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic), US energy giant NRG, the German government, and others are giving support to Caribbean countries of up to US$1bn in loans in support of projects that can be shown to increase energy efficiency or generate renewable energy.
Montserrat, along with many of our Caribbean islands use diesel to generate electricity. As is understood Montserat’s new power plant to be built will be able to incorporate renewable forms of energy into its eventual output. Financing for the project will see DFID providing EC$22.4 million, a further EC$6.7 million will come from the Caribbean development Bank (CDB) through a soft loan and an additional EC$1million via a grant from the CDB. Montserrat Utilities Limited (MUL) and the Government of Montserrat are providing in kind contributions of $6.0 (six) million in land and local resources to the project. What is notable is that energy costs on Montserrat currently stand for basil tariff at EC$0.48c per kilo-watt hour (KwH) under 75 units. Over 75 units it jumps to EC$0.55c per Kwh. See more info on tariffs here
Beyond Geothermal Energy, will Montserrat consider wider renewable energy sources? Financing is always a main concern, but along with geothermal, harnessing of wind and solar energy resources can perhaps be investigated for Montserrat when we think of our long term sustainable future and significantly reducing energy costs to make Montserrat truly attractive to investors, thus encouraging even more robust economic development.
At this point, the governments of Aruba, St Lucia, the British Virgin Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, the Turks and Caicos, Dominica and the Colombian islands of Providencia and San Andrés have said that they will aim to increase their use of renewable energy and cut diesel imports.
In terms of the Opic programme that is available for Caribbean governments to tap into, Lynn Tabernacki, Opic's Managing Director of the renewable energy programmes stated; "We will be prepared to approve up to $250m for projects. These could cover multiple schools or hospitals, or could be used to develop wind and solar farms. Depending on the projects over $1bn might be raised. "
She further went on to state; "This could be a game changer in the Caribbean, improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions. It makes sense to make these islands sustainable," she said.
Geothermal energy is a start to change the economic fortunes of Montserrat in reducing energy costs and lead us on a wider path towards sustainability. The assistance though is out there for the island to go even further and cement our case as being serious about our economic future and having less reliance on the UK.
Jeevan Robinson is Founder & Editor-in-Chief of MNI Alive: Global Caribbean Media. He can be reached at email@example.com