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By Kenton. X Chance

ABU DHABI (CMC) — Dominica is offering its experience in geothermal energy development to fellow CARICOM countries such as Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines as they seek to develop their own energy sector.

St. Kitts-Nevis and Grenada are forging ahead with their geothermal energy projects, while St. Vincent and the Grenadines is reported to have found the requisite heat but not the permeability to generate electricity. Kingstown ended exploration activities in 2019.

But speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of the 14th Session of the two-day International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Assembly which ends here on Thursday, Dominica’s Energy Minister, Vince Henderson, noted that his country’s geothermal energy efforts dates back 60 years, though it has only recently signed a contract to build a 10 megawatt geothermal power plant.

“We have the capacity to produce 10 times more than what we need for domestic use,” he told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) during the joint news conference with the energy minister from Grenada, Kerryne Z. James, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Benarva Browne as well as Malta’s Miriam Dalli.

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“And this is why we have the ambitious target of moving to the production of green hydrogen and ammonia, as fuel sources that we can also be able to export,” Henderson said.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines had pitched its geothermal energy exploration in similar terms more than a decade ago, but Browne, who was assigned the energy portfolio last July, told reporters that the project “is not dead”.

However, the reality is that the government packed up the project five years ago after the three wells dug in the flanks of La Soufriere volcano failed to produce the permeability to access the energy necessary to generate electricity.

Kingstown now says it is in discussion with multiple private sector entities with an interest in using the site for the generation of geothermal energy.

It said a prospective investor has submitted to Cabinet a proposal for a scalable, modular geothermal production facility at the plant that could generate an initial five megawatts within 24 months of activity.

For its part, Grenada is acquiring lands and engaging in studies for geothermal energy exploration.

“… we want to do two exploratory drilling wells. If we get any traction there, we are hoping that we can have a 15 megawatt based on capacity plant there,” James said.

“So one of the things that we see as a  necessity for engaging the public, those who are not in the sector, and those who these projects, and these renewable energy targets would have a positive impact on is to ensure that we bring them along, because at times, you would appreciate that the conversation is international one,” she added.

CMC asked Henderson, what lesson, if any, has Dominica learnt from St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ experience and what Roseau was doing to avoid the same situation.

“Dominica has been developing this way before St. Vincent and the Grenadines came in the game. So if there is something to learn is that St. Vincent should have learned from us a bit.

You know, I should tell Dickon that,” he said as he elbowed, Browne, who was seated next to him.

He was apparently referring to Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, whose administration is also embarking on geothermal exploration.

“But but the truth is,  we’ve been on this road since 1974. Our Parliament created a geothermal development company. We started exploring geothermal power in Dominica in 1969. And obviously, over the years, we’ve not been able to — but when we stepped up our investment by 2008, we test it,” he said.

Henderson BRowne CMC
Dominica’s Minister of Energy, Dr. Vince Henderson and his Vincentian counterpart, Benarva Browne, speaking to the media in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (CMC photo).

Henderson said that Dominica dug three exploratory wells “to determine that we have the resource by 2012.

“And it was proven commercially viable,” he said, adding that Dominica’s concern has always been “what the consumers would have to pay for that power, not whether there was a commercially viable project, because that was proven since 2012.

“By 2014, we drill our first production well, which was great, and it’s still there, it’s still great because we tested it last year,” he said, adding that the two wells that Dominica have dug since have resulted in “at least 22 megawatts of steam.

“So that means that we can actually construct a 20 megawatt power plant that will be viable.”

Henderson said that Dominica signed last December an agreement with Ormat to build a 10 megawatt plant “as the first step.

“Our ambitions to export to Martinique and Guadeloupe have been affected because of the lack of interest of our French partners. And we are now reconsidering the opportunities and the options that are there.

“So when we speak about interconnecting the region and selling power to other islands in the Caribbean, it is not something that will determine whether or not to develop a geothermal plant. We’re saying that the potential is so great, and we have proven it, that we should seriously be considering exporting that power, or at least producing energy cells that can be exported.”

Henderson said Dominica has “learned from everybody who has done everything that we think is of value.

“But the truth about geothermal energy, Dominica has been pursuing this for the longest in the region. And thank God today, we are getting to the point where we are getting very close to actually getting it done. But anything can happen. I’m not a betting man.”

However, Browne was quick to underline that “in St. Vincent, geothermal is not dead”, echoing the words of Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves, when he said in his budget address in January that reports of the death of the geothermal energy project are “greatly exaggerated”.

“We would have undergone research and we are pursuing and looking at other technologies. We all in this room can appreciate that with power and power generation, everyday there is advancements with the technology that makes it more efficient and more effective to harness power with less cost,” ,” Browne said.

“So we’re still pursuing geothermal. And there’s still interest in St. Vincent, by private developers and international developers to come into St. Vincent to harness and further develop the technology.”

This week, St. Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Terrance Drew said he had secure funding from a prominent United Arab Emirates (UAE) based investment firm to initiate the groundbreaking geothermal energy project in the federation.

Drew said the partnership with the K&K Group marks a significant step toward the twin island Federation’s commitment to renewable energy security as it furthers its agenda to a sustainable island state.

Henderson said that Dominica is promoting a project with St. Vincent and the Grenadines,  Grenada, St. Lucia, Barbados and St. Kitts and Nevis “to interconnect our islands so that we can make better use of the huge sources of geothermal energy that we have”.

He said it so happens that St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Dominica “all have geothermal potential.

“And we are all moving forward to develop our resource,” he said of Dominica.

“So we can provide power for the entire Caribbean without putting one solar panel, but I still like solar panels. But I think we really need to rethink how we do that transition. And that is for me the key points that I wish to share today is really rethinking how we transition. I don’t think we are on the right path.”

Responding to questions about the key challenges to connecting Caribbean island to a single grid, Henderson said this is perhaps something taht the region could learn from Malta.

“Because none of the islands are connected? And it would be interesting to find out how you’re connected to Italy, how that works out, how is it integrated into the grid,” he said.

The Dominican energy minister said that 10 years ago the Caribbean “took a look an initial look very preliminary”, at interconnecting the islands from Trinidad in the south to the Bahamas in the north.

“We found out, just like Malta, that the bathymetry made it very difficult, very, very expensive and at the time, the cost of production of one kilowatt of power was so high that it really didn’t make economic sense, except for the case of Dominica.”

Henderson noted that Dominica is located between Guadeloupe and Martinique, two French department.

“Their demand for power was like 10 times our demand for power. And they pay the same rate as they do in in Paris, but heavily subsidised,” he said, adding that this “created the business case” for Dominica.

“Now, 10 years later, we’re looking at well reduced costs for geothermal power, for example, and reduced costs for the technology for interconnection through subsea cable. So we are now back at the drawing board.”

He said that IRENA and the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) expressed interest and the World Bank is involved.

“And there are other partners (like the) Inter American Development Bank, and  (they are) now coming together to see how we can further explore the possibility of interconnected. As we speak, St. Kitts is seeking to connect with Nevis, because they’re geothermal resources on the island of Nevis, but the demand is on St. Kitts,” he said of the Federation, whose twin islands are 4.1 km/2.5 miles apart at the nearest point.

“So they are talking to a partner within this region, who will be responsible for doing the interconnection between those islands with the hope that they can continue throughout the rest of the Eastern Caribbean moving further south,” Henderson said.

He said this is something that Dominica is looking at a very closely, “because we believe it may be one of the solutions to our renewable energy challenges that we have as island states”.

However, while Browne endorsed Henderson’s outlook, she said the biggest challenge stood interconnectedness would be finance.

“When you put into perspective that interconnectedness and transmission into our projects, you’ll see that the costing of initial project increases by a far amount,” she said.

The senator, however, said another challenge would be to get regional leaders to agree.

“As ministers of energy, we might understand being in the industry and seeing the value of it and having our technical experts with us in the ministries, we might understand the value of interconnection,” she said.

“But how do we express that to our heads so that they can agree as well, too? It’s another question, another topic for discussion. So, you know, it’s both finance and having the political will.”

Henderson said that over the last 15 years, Dominica has invested about US$50 million in developing geothermal power.

“But we see it as a public good and we consider those investments are investments to create that opportunity, just as the developed world will invest in research and development, and then take it to market. So when it gets to market, we don’t expect a return on that investment, because investment is only to prove the resource,” he said.

“Fortunately for us, more than half of that has been by way of grants and the rest from our treasure. So you can talk about commercial viability, but that can be defined according to what the country’s policies.”