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SVG 40 years on — agriculture, sustainable energy initiatives and more

SVG 40 years on — agriculture,  sustainable energy initiatives and more

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When Montgomery Daniel, parliamentary representative for North Windward addressed the gathering at the official launch of exploratory drilling operations for the geothermal energy project in his constituency, he made a statement that has far greater significance than just the importance of the project itself.

Mr Daniel contrasted the situation 40 years ago at the foothills of the Soufriere volcano where the project is based, with what obtains today. Then, he said, the volcanic eruption caused thousands living in the area to flee from its wrath, but, today, many people were flocking to the area to witness the launch of a project with far-reaching implications for the development of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Those words encapsulate not only what is happening in the energy sector, but also indicate the dramatic changes in our society since 1979, the year of the eruption and of our attainment of national Independence.

Let us take two aspects of agricultural development. In 1979, marijuana was thought to have few, if any, redeeming qualities and many were prosecuted, even persecuted for it. Today, the Government is spearheading the establishment of a medicinal cannabis industry – heresy 40 years ago. We can also contrast the attitude towards the use of agro-chemicals, widely promoted then, to today’s caution about their harmful impact on health and the environment.

The energy sector has undergone similar changes. In 1979, we were still grappling with the post-1973 effects of the global oil crisis. Very dependent on diesel-generated energy, except for modest contributions from hydro sources, our small economy was severely hampered by the steep rise in the price of fuel.

Even if we had considered alternative energy generation, where would we have been able to raise the capital to fund it? However October 1979 brought Independence and opened the door to the use of foreign policy as a tool for development, including development financing. The geothermal project is one such manifestation of this.

It must be said that the geothermal initiative is not a stand-alone project. It is part of a sustainable energy policy which is also seeing complementary developments such as solar power development in the southern Grenadines where transportation expenses drive up the cost of diesel-generated energy. The benefits of these are many-sided, ranging from an eventual reduction of household electricity bills to making our manufacturing and service sectors more energy-efficient and thus being able to compete better on the market.

A sustainable energy sector, based on renewable energy is also an important plank in our efforts to combat the negative effects of climate change and in contributing to climate change mitigation.
We join with the Caribbean Development Bank in congratulating the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines for this bold, but absolutely necessary move. It is important that we all play our part in making it a success and we look forward to participation by the local private sector in the renewable energy programme.

Finally, it must be recognized that there are still some reservations among sections of our population about the geothermal project. A lot of this is due to a lack of understanding of what the project is all about and unsubstantiated beliefs that drilling can cause the volcano to erupt again. We cannot simply just dismiss this type of thinking, hoping that it would go away. The time is now (or even overdue) for a widespread public education programme, not just on geothermal energy, but on the wider issues of renewable energy and matters pertaining to sustainable development. Too often such public education is neglected in major projects and restricts the buy-in from the people.

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