It was once described by Opposition Leader Mia Mottley as one of the biggest “sell outs” perpetrated against the people of Barbados since the introduction of Cabinet Government in 1954.
However, more than a year after the Freundel Stuart administration dumped plans for a proposed $700 million Cahill Energy Project, the island’s main electricity provider has come out strongly in support of waste-to-energy power generation.
And without making any reference to the Canadian power deal that went belly up after it was initialled by Government back in 2014, the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P) has sought to make it clear that waste-to-energy has a place in Barbados.
Addressing the BL&P’s inaugural energy talks at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Wednesday night, the company’s Managing Director Roger Blackman said such a plant would help solve some of the island’s challenges.
“We believe there is a place in the market for waste-to-energy generation, using well established and proven technologies,” Blackman told the audience, which included a number of Government, private sector and civil society officials.
“Waste-to-energy technology, again like biomass generation, checks many boxes that are right for Barbados. It is a solution to our solid waste management challenges, it is green energy and it would save foreign exchange,” Blackman said.
It was just over two years ago that waste-to-energy was on everyone’s lips after four Cabinet ministers, namely Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, Minister of the Environment Denis Lowe, the Minister of Energy Senator Darcy Boyce and the Minister of Housing Denis Kellman, signed with the CEO of Cahill Energy Clare Cowan, what became a very controversial deal with the Guernsey-based enterprise for the construction of a multi-million dollar waste-to-energy plant.
Responding to the national budget of that same year, Mottley had produced several documents which she held up as proof that Cahill Energy, which was established in 2012, was nothing more than a “shell company”.
And with the project originally scheduled to start in September of that same year, Mottley warned that the country was exposed to “tens or hundreds of millions in dollars in liability” as a result of the 30-year exclusive contract, signed by the four Government ministers, for which she said the company was not being held to any real environmental standards.
“The consequences potentially for the country financially and environmentally are of such serious proportion that the whole of Barbados must now pause and have a conversation. The implications for the breaches of governance are such that unlike any time since Cabinet Government has been introduced in this country, has there been a situation where four ministers of Government have been on a path that potentially has now exposed this country to millions, tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in liability,” the Opposition Leader said at the time.
However, in May last year Government caved in to public pressure, with Lowe confirming that it had scrapped the multi-million dollar plasma gasification plant.
Since then there have been calls from some, including Government legislators, for a national discussion about a waste-to-energy plan for the country.
Though not outlining any such plans by BL&P, Blackman said as the national electricity grid got more technologically advanced and customers demanded greater control “the 100 per cent electrification side of our vision becomes clearer”.
The managing director also disclosed last night that based on a recent case study, the utility company was currently carrying out research to see the viability of producing energy from cane grass, which he said would “breathe new life” into the sugarcane industry.
“The Light & Power has been working with a number of farmers in the BSIL [Barbados Sugar Industries Limited] on using cane grass for biomass electricity generation. This is great for the country’s green thrust, foreign exchange savings and [for] keeping land in agriculture for food security as well,” Blackman said.
“I am happy to say we have actually, with our partners, shipped briquettes of cane grass off to the UK for testing. So clearly we are well on the way of making good progress on this front,” he added.
As part of its renewable energy thrust, the power company, whose parent company Emera Inc. last year boasted of more than CA$29 billion (BDS$45 billion) in assets and CA$4.3 billion (BDS$6.69 billion) in reserves, has built a ten megawatt solar farm in St Lucy, which is expected to save the country an estimated $10 million per year in fossil fuels.
Chief Operating of Emera Inc. Scott Balfour also disclosed that the feasibility of a major offshore wind turbine energy pilot project was currently being discussed and once the necessary applications were submitted and approved it would be implemented.
Stressing that plans were in the embryonic stages and there were no details just yet, Balfour told participants in the BL&P’s inaugural energy talk event that the plan was being looked at in association with the University of Maine.
“This is still only in the early planning stages, but it is something I have actually seen and is excited about . . . and that is that Emera and the team here at Barbados Light & Power is working together with partners at the University of Maine to test the idea of trialing a floating wind project here in Barbados,” announced Balfour.
“So the plan would see a floating wind turbine that would be designed and built at the University of Maine, brought here to Barbados and installed offshore and connected into the grid and testing technology that would provide critical data in terms of the evolution of that as an application that could have global significance, but of particular significance here where the ability to capture wind resource obviously becomes exponential,” he said.
Though he did not have a timeframe for when the company hoped the plan would become a reality, Balfour said he was yet to sell the idea to Government.
“We think this is really exciting and we are really pleased to be a part of it and thinking about the idea to test this technology right here in Barbados,” he said, adding that the plans were in keeping with the company’s 100/100 Vision, to have the island powered by 100 per cent renewable energy sources by 2045.