August 21, 2020
The danger of overhype – the case of geothermal exploration

“Disappointing” was the word used by Ellsworth Dacon, manager of the geothermal project in the foothills of the La Soufriere volcano to describe the failure to be able to realize an economically viable solution with the methods used. He was explaining the decision to pull the plug on the original plans and to opt for alternative solutions.

Significantly, it was Dacon, the top local official on the project, who made the announcement. It had been heralded by the political leadership of this country as a “game-changer” which would have had a “significant” effect of the cost of energy locally with benefits both to domestic consumers as well as to make industry and commerce more competitive because of the lower energy costs expected.

Naturally, the admitted “failure” has brought wolves at the political door of the Ralph Gonsalves administration.

Some have already latched into it with an eye towards upcoming general elections. Yet, while sharing in the disappointment, it is important that we do not let partisanship divert us from the understanding that the “disappointment” is a national one, or to cause us to abandon support for continued efforts to generate alternative sources of renewable energy.

This in no way rules out criticisms of the project but we must be careful not to rejoice at any national setback or to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Drilling for energy sources, whether it is for petrochemicals or for a geothermal source carries with it risks, often incurring significant costs without a solid guarantee of success.

Secondly, as pointed out by the project manager, all is not lost. Alternative methods, described by him as “a closed loop system” are still being pursued and it is yet possible to have positive results. The costs, production and management arrangements will need to be spelt out.

However if there is one lesson that we should learn from this experience, is the danger of overhype. Politicians, eager to maintain or gain support are prone to this kind of sell. Every project is painted in glowing terms often beyond its own limitations. When problems do occur, as they often will, there is political fall-out and very temptingly, not any realistic reappraisal but a counter political response which can sometimes damage the national interests.

One can only hope that we have intelligent discussions of the experience and full disclosure of the facts as we continue in our thrust for economic and social development in which the development of alternative renewable energy sources will play an important role.