Among the islands in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Lucia’s economy is performing comparatively well. The island, which is less than half the size of Los Angeles proper and is home to about 170,000, is diversifying its agricultural sector, has decent infrastructure, and has attracted investment in its manufacturing and banking sectors.
Now this tiny nation northwest of Barbados is making a move on the renewable energy front. St. Lucia’s government has signed an agreement with US-based Qualibou Energy for the development of a geothermal plant. If all goes as planned, the plant will generate 12 megawatts of electricity by 2012, and another 108 MW of capacity will be in operation by 2015.
With the exception of Trinidad and Tobago, most Caribbean nations are net energy importers. While most of the petroleum comes from Mexico and Venezuela under generally favorable terms, the region’s leaders have always expressed concern that high energy prices could disrupt these economies. No doubt that the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill spooked many in the Caribbean, as they are highly reliant on tourism–a sector that has already suffered from the global economic slowdown.
What’s intriguing about St. Lucia’s geothermal project is that the country will end up becoming an energy exporter if it succeeds. Through a 30-mile sea cable linking it to Martinique, the plant will allow St. Lucia, to export about 80 MW of electricity to its neighbor by 2015.
St. Lucia has had its geothermal sources tested since the 1970s. US$30 million has been invested in the research and development in the southwestern portion of the island. Qualibou estimates that this are of geothermal activity, located near the small town of Sulphur Springs, has as much as another 170 MW of potential electricity available.
The project has its hurdles, most of which are financial: about US $60 million is invested in the current phase of the geothermal plant, but Qualibou’s executive believe that the power purchase agreement reached with St. Lucia’s utility can gain it revenues of up to US$100 million. So, on paper the deal looks good, as the island’s peak demand for electricity is at 56 MW–which currently is achieved through diesel generation. Qualibou believes that the geothermal energy produced in St. Lucia will reduce this country’s carbon footprint significantly. Time will tell.
Could success in St. Lucia be a model for Hawaii?