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High hopes being pinned on geothermal energy

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The high cost of energy and consequently electricity has posed a major developmental problem to small states likes ours. The reliance on non-renewable sources of energy via fuel imports has presented our countries with both economic and environmental challenges of significant proportion. These have constituted serious constraints to our possibilities for economic and social development.

Rising fuel import bills for countries not endowed with petroleum resources have been compounded by the vicissitudes of the global oil market, leaving us in very vulnerable positions. In turn this has had negative effects on our competitiveness especially with regard to goods locally produced.{{more}}

Additionally, not only does the country suffer as a whole but the more disadvantaged sections of the population, the poorer folk suffer the most. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, high electricity costs have been a perennial challenge, particularly over the last four decades. The national supplier of electricity has been forced to employ very unpopular measures to meet this challenge, resulting in the imposition of the notorious ‘fuel surcharge’. Which Vincentian consumer has not commented unfavourably on this measure?

In response, governments throughout the Caribbean have been making efforts to reduce their reliance on high-cost imported fuel. Initiatives at amelioration, such as the Petrocaribe programme have brought some relief but the bigger picture needs to be addressed. Thus we have seen a number of initiatives including hydro-electricity and power generation from clean sources such as wind and solar, emerging throughout the region over the past decade or so.

But there is another potentially very valuable source available to many Caribbean countries. Being mainly volcanic in origin, countries have the possibility of tapping into rich sources of geothermal energy, hitherto ignored. A number of Caribbean countries, St Vincent and the Grenadines among them, have awoken to this possibility and have sought international partners with the technological experience and investment capital to try and exploit these possibilities.

It is in this context that Vincentians are placing their hopes on the partnership forged by the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines with the Icelandic company, Reykjavik Geothermal, Emera and the Clinton Global Initiative to tap geothermal energy from the Soufriere volcano.

It is a project on which the government is pinning high hopes to produce cleaner, greener sources of energy to reduce and stabilize electricity prices and to help it achieve the goals of moving away from high-priced fuel to a situation where by 2020, 80 per cent of our energy needs will be met from renewable sources, hydro, solar and geothermal.

The choice of partner is significant. Iceland, the home country of Reykjavik, is not only a volcanic country, but it is also a world leader in the generation of geothermal energy. There are five major geothermal plants in Iceland, including Reykjavik’s Hellisheidi, one of the world’s largest. Between them they generate more than a quarter of the country’s energy and provide heating and hot water for 87 per cent of that country’s buildings. Interestingly, Iceland aims to become a 100 per cent fossil fuel-free nation. These fit in nicely with our own needs and aspirations and we can therefore only wish all the best for this local initiative and encourage full support for it.

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