The results of the surface exploration phase of the geothermal project “support the earlier conclusions suggesting that Mount Soufriere is hosting a high temporary geothermal reservoir of commercial use”.
And if everything “goes well and on scheduled”, the geothermal plant is expected to begin operations in June 2018, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told Parliament in a recent update.
“VINLEC is hoping for even earlier, but that is the timeline which is being given in respect of all the test which is being done,” he said in reference to the state-owned power company, which will also distribute any electricity generated from geothermal sources.
Current peak demand for electricity is 20 megawatts, five megawatt of which is generated by hydropower. And the government is exploring the development of a five to 15 megawatt geothermal power plant to provide base load power in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Gonsalves said that the surface exploration phase began in November 2013 and includes resistivity surveys, with 34 magnetotelluric (MT) and transient electromagnetic (TEM) sounding sites.
“However, due to land access challenges — because of the terrain — a further 10 to 20 TEM station soundings are required,” he said.
The board of directors of Emera and Reykjavik, the companies that are funding the exploration phase of the project, has approved the next investment in the project of US$1.3 million and the project team is current advancing project planning efforts, Gonsalves said.
The first ground activity was expected to commence mid-August and will include aircraft flyover, thermal infrared and LIDAR imagery to search for geothermal anomalies.
“Now, I just want to say this, that very shortly we are going to see these planes flying over. I want in this way to indicate to forest users that these planes are entirely innocent. … They are not there in search of anything else.
“Because, as the forest users are aware, since this government has come to office, there has been no use of aircraft to address any form of agriculture in the hills,” Gonsalves said in an apparent reference to the illegal cultivation of marijuana in the nation’s interior.
He said the project phase will also include an infrastructure study, an environmental impact assessment study, and a volcanic risk mitigation study.
“It is expected that by June next year a business case model will be available and drilling can commence after all contracts and the private public partnership agreements have been negotiated and agreed,” he told Parliament, adding that his government has a memorandum of understanding, apart from the licence with the consortium of Emera and Reykjavik Geothermal, which will also finance the studies.
Gonsalves also addressed funding after reaching the state of a business model, saying that the government is continuing to seek opportunities for funding either by grants or soft loans.
It has engaged regional and international organisation such as the International Renewable Energy Agency, in Abu Dhabi, the Caribbean Development Bank, Japan International Corporation Agency, and other entities, “where available funding will reduce the overall cost of the project while increasing he government’s equity.
“Because if we were to get a significant amount of the monies either as grants or soft loans, the extent of the equity which they themselves have to put it, that is to say, the consortium, will be reduced to that extent and then it will obviously be reflected in the kind of pricing which you will have for the commodity at the end of the day,” Gonsalves said.
The funding project will be undertaken by members of the consortium and the government, “it being understood that the consortium may arrange project financing and terms and conditions and documentation, set forth in the business plan. So that is a critical phase next year,” he told lawmakers.
Gonsalves also said that he had been advised by Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan that the relevant legislation is undergoing final review and should be ready for the next sitting of Parliament.
The government of New Zealand is offering technical advise on the geothermal project.