“Geothermal Failure! Vincentians left in the dark with doomed game-changer!”
That was the Headline of The News Newspaper of Friday, August 21, 2020. The much-touted geothermal project has failed. The New Democratic Party (NDP) supported the geothermal energy initiative by the government but had concerns about the financing of the project, the secrecy surrounding the withdrawal of Emera from the project, and how the project would have affected the cost of electricity.
The approach of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government to the project, should be questioned. Did the government follow the advice of the experts? In the mid-1990s, the former NDP administration studied the feasibility of geothermal, and it was confirmed that the north western quadrant of St. Vincent on the flanks of the Soufriere volcano was favourable for the discovery of commercially exploitable geothermal resources. This information is available to the ULP government. Then, why was drilling not done in the area identified in the study?
Vincentians were starved of information on the progress of the geothermal project. When it was revealed that the project had failed, it came as a shock to most people. Attempts were made by the government to deny it.
However, we have seen the equipment moving slowly back to the port in Kingstown without any fanfare, and without the red flags. The ULP government was desperate to score political mileage from the project. We were told that it would have been the game changer in energy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The risks of exploratory drilling were never explained to the public. Hence, Vincentians have the right to criticize the government for the failure of the project. It was all about politics.
The NDP has the vision and a strategic plan for energy development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with a major focus on renewable energy. Our approach will put energy sustainability front and center of the national energy equation, which will translate into reduced foreign exchange outflows, lower energy prices and improved competitiveness of the private sector.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has long benefited from renewable energy in its national energy balance, in the form of hydro power. Hydroelectric power plants commissioned in the 1950s, 60s and 80s contributed to the economic growth of the country while keeping electricity bills low. Over the past nineteen years, however, the development of a vision for a sustainable energy future for our country has been neglected. Consequently, the trends are all heading in the wrong direction: our country’s dependence on expensive, imported petroleum products is increasing; electricity prices practically doubled during the past nineteen years and our energy security is threatened.
At present, the government through VINLEC, is following an inefficient approach to solar photovoltaics (PV) development, which does not optimize the overall development of renewable energy in the country, and does not provide sufficient incentive for private consumers to invest in PV. This sub-optimal approach will be discontinued in favour of a policy approach that puts the strategic maximization of renewable energy at the center of the picture and will incentivize local private sector involvement. Low-income households will not be left out: the NDP will partner with an established enterprise to provide small, self-contained PV electricity systems that can provide basic lighting and phone charging.
The use of solar energy for water heating will be expanded through the application of a coherent programme of tax and financial incentives to homeowners, hotels, businesses and institutions. Hotels, businesses and households will be able to apply for tax write-offs on the purchase of solar water heaters in the year of acquisition, and local lending institutions will be facilitated to access low-interest funding, available for on-lending for private solar energy development.
Wind measurements in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have already indicated that wind is a readily-available energy resource. However, it seems that previously identified wind energy sites on mainland St. Vincent are now no longer available due to their proximity to the airport site at Argyle. The NDP will study, using regional best-practices as a model, the options for the development of wind energy on St Vincent and in the Grenadines.
Within recent years, it has been established that suitable hydro resources remain available for development on mainland St Vincent and the Grenadines. The NDP will ensure that these identified resources are reviewed, with a view to maximizing the economically viable utilization of the country’s hydro resources.
Whatever the source of our energy, it needs to be used more efficiently. The NDP’s vision is to move the nation towards adopting a culture of energy efficiency. This will be led by example from government level, and will involve a comprehensive programme targeted at the transport, household, business and government sectors. Also, to improve the efficiency in the provision of energy on a multi-island state such as ours, the NDP will work through VINLEC to undertake a technical and economic feasibility study of the development of an interconnected national power grid, which will ultimately be 80% powered by renewable energy.
The ULP government has squandered the opportunity for the development of geothermal energy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Had the government listened to the NDP, we would not have been in this predicament today. However, there is hope. The NDP is committed to delivering cheaper energy to Vincentians. The NDP will make SVG work for all Vincentians.