Geothermal goes a little cold
He saw it coming. He really saw it come. Therefore, when Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced in parliament last week that Dominica would walk down the geothermal road all alone, environmentalist Athie Martin was not taken off guard.
"No, [it did not come as a surprise]. Not really," Martin told The Sun.
Geothermal has been as hot an issue here as the energy from the earth that government wants to exploit.
In August last year, Skerrit gave the assurance that Dominica was nearing the end of negotiations with French investors to start building the much talked about plant.
The talks with the investment consortium would end by October for a joint venture to build and operate the plants, he said.
The plan was to develop a 10 to 15 megawatt small geothermal power plant in the Roseau Valley, according to project document, a copy of which was made available to The Sun compiled by the geothermal management unit of the Ministry of Public Works, Energy and Ports. Construction was to begin this year and commissioned, on completion, in 2018.
By the end of 2020, a larger plant with a capacity to produce between 100 and 120 megawatts would be in operation at an estimated cost of US $450M to $500M, supplying local consumers, as well as Guadeloupe and Martinique, according to the document.
However, the French have since pulled out leaving government in the heat.
"They [government] had to back away from the 100 and 120 megawatt unrealistic project," Martin told The Sun. "The French have concluded this would end up being much too expensive for them. So they lost the power purchase with Martinique and Guadeloupe." Martin, a renewable energy advocate, has said in the past that geothermal has potential as a source of renewable energy, but it must not be the end all.
He sees the climb down by Skerrit as a face-saving exercise, which has less to do with lowering electricity costs and more to do with political survival.
"We have already spent . . . $110 million for seven megawatts. But I do believe, with all the hoopla they did about it – and they really milked it for the last election – they do realise it's a non-starter. The fact of the matter is the drill site is still . . . dangerous because it is in the middle of the volcano."
It is also in the heart of the tourist area, as well as the source of hydro-electricity, which provides 36 per cent or 6.6 megawatts of the 26.7 megawatts of electricity that the Dominica Electricity Services generates.
Therefore, Martin contends, the benefits that the country already enjoys from the area far outweigh the seven megawatts that government is looking to produce.
"This is really an anti-economic decision. As to whether it would reduce the cost of electricity, seven megawatts do not even begin to add up."
Unless, he said, the administration is looking to subsidize the cost of electricity so it can boast that it promised geothermal and it delivered on that promise.
"I think this is another cheap political ploy on the part of the government. It's not only bad politics, but it's dangerous economics and dangerous environmental practice for the Roseau River and the Roseau Valley," he said.
And this, Martin insists, comes as no surprise either because he can see it coming.