Saba drops geothermal research, goes for wind and solar energy

POSTED: 10/9/14 9:21 PM

Setback for St. Maarten’s green energy policy

St. Maarten – The Executive Council in Saba prefers investments in solar and wind energy, and to forego for the time being preliminary research into the potential of geothermal energy. The decision is a setback for St. Maarten’s ambitious green energy-policy that speaks of an investment of $25 million in a submarine cable for the import of geothermal energy from Saba.

“If a geothermal power plant is feasible, it will have to export about 90 percent of the electricity to among other Country Sint Maarten. this would have to be taken into account with a balanced distribution of the costs,” Minister Henk Kamp (Economic Affairs) and Ronald Plasterk (Kingdom Relations) write in answers to questions posed by parliamentarians Ronald van Raak (Socialist Party) and Roelof van Laar (PvdA).

The two ministers write that they have read the “ambitious green energy-strategy of St. Maarten” but it appears that they have doubts about its feasibility. “The cabinet has a significant and at the same time realistic ambition in the field of sustainable energy for Caribbean Netherlands.”

The bottom line of the Dutch strategy is that investments in solar and wind energy will help the utility-companies in Saba and Statia to become profitable within 18 months. Currently, the companies are losing money and a study into the potential of geothermal energy would last several years. All that time the utilities company in Saba would have to sustain losses to the tune of 1.5 million per year, or increase energy prices drastically.

The ministers   share the opinion of Van Raak and Van Laar that investments in sustainable energy in the Caribbean islands will in the long-term result in more prosperity (lower energy prices and revenue from export) and a sustainable economy. “The intended subsidies to the electricity companies in Saba and Statia are direct support for the large-scale introduction of sustainable energy in 2015. The share of sustainable energy will increase from zero to 35 or 40 percent within one-and-a-half year. The companies will no longer be loss-making, while there is no need to increase electricity-tariffs.”

The ministers point out that 35 percent of the electricity produced in Bonaire is already sustainable, due to the central wind turbine park.

The draft law for potable water and electricity will allow consumers in Caribbean Netherlands to generate their own electricity with solar panels. “Currently it is prohibited to be a client of the utilities company and generate your own electricity with solar panels. The draft law puts an end to this undesirable situation,” the ministers write.

Kamp and Plasterk point out that Saba is free to choose the type of sustainable energy it wants to realize with the subsidy the Dutch government granted at the end of last year. “In talks with the local government it has been pointed out that it is also possible to use the subsidy for a preliminary research into geothermal energy. If the research makes clear that geothermal energy has a viable potential, it will take several years before a geothermal installation will be operational. In the meantime the company would sustain losses of €1.5 million ($1.9 million) per year, or it would have to increase electricity tariffs drastically.”

According to Kamps and Plasterk the island-government therefore expressed a preference for investments in solar and wind energy, because these installations can be ready within one-and-a-half year.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs covers the losses of the utility company for this year, but it has no resources to keep doing this for several years.

Van Raak and Van Laar got nowhere with their question whether the ministers are prepared to research the viability of geothermal energy. “In consultation with the Executive Council of Saba, the priority right now is with the realization of a significant share in sustainable energy generation for the short term. This will prevent that the recently privatized electricity company in Saba has to increase the tariffs for consumers drastically. The cabinet does not prevent any party from realizing geothermal energy production in the Caribbean.”

The investments in solar and wind energy must make it possible for Saba and Statia to generate 35 percent of their energy needs from sustainable sources by 2016, the ministers state in their answers.

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