The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Cahill Energy Clare Cowan today refused to confirm reports that the $700 million plasma gasification plant, scheduled to be built in Barbados, has been cancelled.
However, in a brief interview with Barbados TODAY from Toronto, Canada, Cowan denied that the technology that Cahill Energy was planning to use in the construction of a
waste-to-energy plant at Vaucluse, St Thomas was the same as that used by Air Products – a company which has reportedly abandoned a billion dollar waste-to-energy project in England.
“The technology used in Air Products is not at all the same as Cahill. It’s not the same technology at all, ” she insisted.
However, when asked if the multi-million dollar Barbados project was still moving forward, all Cowan would say is, “We aren’t using the same technology at all. That’s all I’m on the record as saying.”
Her comments to Barbados TODAY came directly on the heels of reports that Air Products was quitting the waste-to-energy sector and had pulled the plug on its two major gasification facilities on Teessidem, which were expected to generate 49.9 megawatts of renewable electricity a year, using 350,000 tonnes of non-recyclable residual waste.
The decision to exit the sector was expected to cost the company between Bds$1.8 billion and $2 billion (700 million pounds sterling).
However, a statement from its headquarters in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, said Air Products has decided “it is no longer in the best interest of the company and its shareholders to continue the Tees Valley projects” since testing and analysis had indicated that “additional design and operational challenges would require significant time and cost to rectify.
“We pushed very hard to make this new [waste-to-energy] technology work and I would like to thank the team who worked so diligently.
“We appreciate the hard work of our employees and contractors at the site, and certainly understand their disappointment in this decision. We are also disappointed with the outcome,” said Air Products chief executive Seifi Ghasemi in announcing the decision to abandon the waste-to-energy facilities due to technical difficulties in making the technology work.
That development has also brought under further scrutiny the plan for a similar construction in Barbados.
Among those asking questions today about Cahill’s future here was British engineer Colin Wakefield, who since 1997 had been leading the fight by a group of UK residents against a landfill project, which he described as an “environmental disaster”.
However, Wakefield, who works part time in the defence industry, but is substantively employed by firm which has just completed a large autoclave waste treatment facility, expressed more than a passing interest in the Cahill project.
The British engineer, who said he had been in contact with Barbadian Major Sam Headley, also revealed that he met Barbadian businessman Ralph Bizzy Williams, who is currently responsible for Government’s waste disposal, during a visit to the island three years ago.
Wakefield, who further disclosed that he had been keeping Williams up to date on the progress of the two plasma gasification plants which lie some twenty miles from his home on Teesside, suggested that his company could offer a “better waste solution” that was “more suited” to Barbados.
He went on to inquire about Government’s plans for plasma gasification, which he said now appeared to have become very political.
“I would be grateful if you could provide an update on the state of play with the plasma gasification plant planned for Barbados,” he said in his letter to Barbados TODAY.
However, neither Minister of Environment Dr Denis Lowe nor any of his ministerial colleagues who participated with him in the March 2014 signing ceremony between the Barbados Government and the Guernsey-based Cahill Energy to build and operate the plant, were available for comment today on the matter.
In fact, Minister of Housing Denis Kellman was the only one reachable by telephone.
When asked if the Cahill project was now dead, Kellman responded saying: “I am not the minister responsible for Cahill. I am not the Minister of Environment and that is an environmental project.”
However, a senior Government official, with intimate knowledge of the project, confirmed to Barbados TODAY that a dark cloud now hangs over the proposed waste-to-energy plant.
In fact, he revealed that if there was going to be a plasma gasification plant in Barbados, it would not be done by Cahill Energy.
The official, who did not want to be identified, further disclosed that Cahill had not lived up to promises made to Government and that the financial arrangements for the project were still up in the air.
“If there is a plasma gasification plant it will not be with Cahill . . . I don’t know if that project is going ahead and certainly not with her [Cowan],” the official said, while complaining that the investor had become the subject of controversy.
However, he could not confirm reports that Cowan had sold her rights to the project even though he made it clear that in keeping with the official memorandum, “both sides had things to do and they [Cahill] were not able to hold up their end of the bargain”.
The official however maintained that the door remained open for a waste-to-energy project, since key officials of Government were still of the view that waste-to-energy was the “cleanest” energy around.
For much of last year, the ill-fated Cahill had been a topic of public debate and consternation, after Opposition Leader Mia Mottley laid bare in Parliament last March the perceived sordid details of the waste project.
And despite several attempts by Cowan and other senior executives of the Canadian firm to convince Barbadians that the project was safe, there has been a growing chorus of opposition to its establishment, the height of which came during a town-hall meeting last July at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre where Cahill officials were booed, heckled and ridiculed.
But through it all, Cowan has touted the prospects of creating up to 600 jobs, while the Government has been adamant that it is not spending a cent on the plant, even though it was responsible for providing the land at Vaucluse.