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Harvesting hot air and water from deep beneath the rocks to generate electricity was supposed to be the answer to Dominica's economic woes. But if Athie Martin, environmentalist and spokesperson for the Roseau Valley Geothermal Awareness Group is correct, the Government of Dominica has been blowing hot air to Dominicans over the potential of extracting geothermal energy from wells dug deep in the Roseau Valley.

Martin has based his observations on the fact that an Icelandic group working on the project here has left the State and France is apparently no longer interested in financing the project or buying Dominica's energy derived from geothermal.

"I think the geothermal project was a pre-election gimmick," Martin told the Sun in an exclusive interview last week. "Frankly that is why one of the most respected companies in geothermal energy (Reykjavik Geothermal) which was the first company involved in this initiative, that is why that company pulled out and that is the same company that is developing a 10 megawatt geothermal plant in St Vincent".

Attempts at obtaining a reaction to Martin's statements from the Government of Dominica were unsuccessful. When contacted project manager Alexis George referred the newspaper to the permanent secretary who said the Minister would be making a statement soon on the matter.

The geothermal project in the valley has been on Government's priority list for many years now but public statements for the past three months on developments in the sector have been few and far between.

In its manifesto for the December 2014 general election the ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) said, "The most important catalyst for greening the economy is the development of the geothermal sector. It can free Dominica from over-reliance on expensive fossil fuels that pollute the atmosphere and are ultimately exhaustible. By producing energy at lower prices, it will reduce the cost of living and the cost of producing the goods and services that are needed to diversify and grow the economy".

The DLP manifesto added: "In 2004 the Government embarked on a systematic programme of exploring the availability of geothermal energy and the feasibility of producing commercial quantities in Dominica. Since then the Government has invested over $54 million in the Geothermal Energy Project in plants for local consumption and export. Geothermal power generation in commercial quantities will begin in 2016."

Additionally, at a press conference in October 2014 the then Minister of Energy Rayburn Blackmore said: "We have been through the test wells, production wells and we have just concluded the flow test for the production well and we had a reading of 11.4 megawatts which was well above our initial expectations. The intention of the DLP Administration is to construct a small plant by 2016 so that the people of Dominica can benefit."

But Martin maintains there were other reasons why the original plans for the project crashed; that included politics in France and in the neighbouring French islands.

"While Martinique and Guadeloupe were being mentioned as being the purchasing points remember Electricite de France pulled out of the agreement early and the Electricite de France is the Ministry of Energy of France that has to approve any power purchase so when they pulled out (the project suffered)," stated Martin.

He contended that Dominica point-man in Guadeloupe on the geothermal initiative, Victorine L'Orelle lost his seat in an election and thus the proposal died.

"The single line of communication and influence we had was broken," he said. "In the meantime it turns out the French government had been investing in the Oceanic Transfer of Energy and they had gotten to the point while we were exploring for geothermal they were exploring for Oceanic Transfer of Energy; they didn't place all their bets on geothermal. They too took the decision that they didn't want to become dependent on any one source for their energy supply especially since that source was foreign".


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