By Michael J. Davis
At the risk of political attack by the partisans who place party ahead of nation building – the geothermal energy effort is a commendable endeavour by government. Geothermal technology is not new nor is it unknown considering its history in places like New Zealand and Iceland – pioneers in geothermal energy. Dominica has taken the lead in this geothermal arena in a Caribbean region that has an abundance of renewable and other energy resources but due to the lack of dollars needed to access it, the region is largely dependent on relatively high-cost imported fossil fuel and electricity.
Michael J. Davis, the nephew of Speaker Marie Davis Pierre, cousin to Prime Minister Eugenia Charles and the grandson of Cecil A. Rawle, has degrees in business, politics and law and is a veteran of multiple political campaigns
This high cost of energy diverts resources away from economic development, reduces competitiveness, and renders the energy sectors of the Caribbean nations vulnerable to fossil fuel supply shocks. Our relatively isolated economies become unattractive to invest and in fact discourage the investment necessary to build sustainable businesses.
In such circumstances, it is very courageous decision by the Dominica government and we should wish them luck instead of unfounded attacks on the process, mostly apparently due to politics rather than science, because if successful Dominica and to the benefit of all its citizens will be well positioned for new foreign direct investment as its competitive criteria becomes more business friendly.
Recently, the prime minister lamented that Dominica remains plagued with high costs of energy because of the exorbitant cost of fuel. He then stated that geothermal endeavour “is a very expensive undertaking particularly the exploratory stages. We have spent in excess of $50 million that we have mobilized to get to this level. Why has the government pursued this very ambitious and indeed very expensive venture? It is simply because we have been listening to the cries of the Dominican population, our business people, the people involved in manufacturing, the tourism people, the hoteliers and every citizen of this country who receives an electricity bill at the end of each month.”
While I may have concerns regarding the size of government vs. the private sector, it is obvious that in the current environment only government could have financed this risky venture. Dominica’s gamble on geothermal energy is a good bet when we consider Iceland’s experience. Iceland went from what was one of Europe's poorest countries, dependent upon peat and imported coal for its energy, to a country with a high standard of living where practically all stationary energy is derived from renewable resources. In 2011, roughly 84% of primary energy use came from indigenous renewable resources, with 66% thereof from geothermal. In Dominica’s case, it replaces fossil fuel imports and with a locally produced geothermal supply combined with existing hydro power produced energy, we would have 100% primary electrical energy use coming from indigenous renewable resources.
Government expenditures in excess of $50 million have mobilized geothermal to a level where exploratory well WWPII at the Aerial Tram location in Laudat, the first well drilled in December 2011 and tested in March 2012 had a generation capacity of 0.5 megawatts, the second exploratory well WWIII, done on the same location as the first production well WWP1, which was done back in 2012 and tested in April of 2012, had a generation capacity of 2.8 megawatts, and Wotten Waven exploratory well -- tested in June of 2012, with a generation capacity of 3.9 megawatts.
Now, a site visit of a production reservoir at Laudat after a six-day flow test conducted on it has proved that the reservoir is productive and is able to produce 11.4 megawatts of electricity. All citizens should say in unison, congratulations to us all -- let’s build the production plant for local energy consumption. It is not politics to give Jack his jacket – it is human decency. It is also statesmanship. Well done PM Skerrit!
Government should now create a sovereign wealth fund and place the majority stake of the geothermal resource as a primary asset. Government should also enhance the legal framework to include creating a National Energy Authority with a minority of its shares open to local and regional private sector investment to reduce the public sector ownership and operation of the geothermal resource – thus reducing government’s size in the economy vs. the private sector and as a way of recouping some of governments’ investment – the results being a public private partnership.
But history should not be ignored. After a hurricane destroyed our electricity grid and hydro power production, the Eugenia Charles Freedom Party administration purchased the British-owned electric producer for a minimal price, then government invested heavily in rebuilding the grid, an existing hydro plant and then expanded hydro power capacity – but the privatization process by a subsequent United Workers Party administration took in much less dollars than the actual investment by government.
Many at the time were of the opinion that the privatization process was not value or market based but most likely quid pro quo cronyism. It should not matter who or which party is in government, this history should not be repeated.
There is a time and place for politics, showmanship and grandstanding. The dogmatic belligerent attitudes of some personalities should not deter the courteous among us from good citizenship. Parochial interest – no matter how loudly expressed -- should never be placed ahead of nation building.
The time is now for all parties, interested sectors and citizens to be patriotic and place nation building – the welfare of all over their personal ambitions – to be constructive and contribute in a positive manner to this energy production effort. Constructive opposition in our democracy has always been welcomed, but this current version of baseless (e.g. libelous bomb throwing from a platform i.e. Cabinet rape allegations) accusations and the assumption that some anointed individual can cast aspersions and it automatically become assumed facts is destructive to the moral core of our democracy. Even without the machinery of government, this is the infancy of demagoguery.
We need a responsible opposition, as we had once in the decade 1970 through 1980. Civility does not mean weakness. Respect for opposition within one’s own party or within and among cabinet is maturity and integrity of character. Divergent views are good – reconciling to a strategic vision is a sign of team strength. The quality deficiencies of the leadership of the opposition – both the DFP and UWP – are a net negative for both the DLP and Dominica.
The fact is the lower competitive cost of energy will make more resources available for economic development, increase our competitiveness in the global environment and allow our relatively isolated economy to become attractive to investment and in fact encourage the necessary investments to build sustainable private sector companies and move Dominica away from being one of the poorer countries to become richer with a higher standard of living in the Caribbean region.
The Labour Party administration deserves credit. It also deserves a strong private sector and an intelligent political opposition. Dominica would be the beneficiary.
Elections are in twelve months or so – but politics can surely wait for nation building – therefore, this writer’s choice is patriotic love of country.