I have been amused and bemused at the lengths to which the NRP led Nevis Island Administration has gone to hide the true facts surrounding the state of geothermal exploration and development in Nevis. Much ink has been spilt on this issue and much ado bandied about the radio airwaves. The glaring question that remains unanswered however is what is the deal made by this NRP with the foreign company West Indies Power to develop this tremendous Nevisian resource?
When this question was posed to the Government’s point man on the geothermal project, the Honourable Carlisle Powell, he responded with a degree of venom hitherto unknown in the Nevis Island Assembly. It was then that my suspicions started. Why was the Honourable Minister so angry at what should be a simple question? When he stated that “There was no deal with West Indies Power” and that the Government and West Indies Power were merely “operating on a hand shake” alarm bells started tolling in my head. If Minister Powell is to be believed then a foreign investor has come to Nevis and is investing millions of US dollars on the exploration and development of geothermal power with no arrangement whatsoever in place between that investor and the Government. There is no agreement as to how that investor will recover its investment or make a profit. There is nothing binding the Government to work with that investor and, if Minister Powell is to be believed, the Government can wait until the investor finds the resource then kick them out of Nevis. Minister Powell must clearly be a worker of miracles and West Indies Power must really be the Salvation Army masquerading as a for profit company. What abject nonsense!
Having dealt with investors the world over, I can say without fear of contradiction that none would invest a dollar in any country, far less a foreign country, without an agreement in place as to their rights and responsibilities and how they would hope to recoup their investment. Why then did Minister Powell try to mislead the Nevisian public on this most critical issue? Why is it that the deal with West Indies Power is so shrouded in secrecy? Why is the NRP trying to fool us? Let us see the agreement and decide for ourselves whether they have made a good deal for the people of Nevis.
Recently there was a bidding process in the USVI for the provision of power to St. Croix. Lo and behold West Indies Power bid that they could supply St. Croix with 120MW of geothermal power. This is Nevis’ geothermal power being pledged to the USVI not by the Nevis Island Government but by a private company, West Indies Power. It struck me then that as a general rule one cannot agree to sell to someone else what one does not own. If West Indies Power is bidding on selling Nevis’ geothermal to St. Croix then it follows that West Indies Power OWNS the geothermal resource in Nevis.
That suspicion was strengthened when recently Minister Carty of St. Kitts stated that the Federal Government looks forward to purchasing geothermal power from West Indies Power (not from the Nevis Island Government). The suspicion was entirely confirmed when Minister Powell in speaking to NEVLEC employees recently indicated that West Indies Power will be asked to sell geothermal power to NEVLEC and then NEVLEC would sell to the general public. Again it struck me that West Indies Power must OWN the geothermal resource if the Minister is asking them to make sure to sell to NEVLEC. We are all aware how in some countries especially in Africa the natural resources of the country were given away lock stock and barrel to foreign companies who exploited those resources principally for their benefit with the people of those countries left to collect the dregs if anything.
This brings us full circle on the vexing question of what is the deal with West Indies Power? It seems quite clear to me that the NRP led Government has given the geothermal resources over to West Indies Power and we must now hope they find something to then sell the power back to NEVLEC and to us. It seems clear to me that the resource is now owned by these foreign investors and not by the people of Nevis.
But this ought not to be surprising. Minister Powell is known more for his bluster than his acumen. He has been selected by the NRP to lead the negotiations and discussions on geothermal. He has neither the training nor the background. Yet he has done so without the benefit of any expert advice. The Government in Nevis changed in July 2006 and the NRP took the reins. By January of 2007 we heard that the NRP had granted a licence to West Indies Power to explore for geothermal. We have not to date seen the terms of that Licence and are not sure if that’s what Minister Powell calls a “handshake”. The question is who advised the NRP on this Licence? We know that West Indies Power has experts on its team including scientists and financial experts. Who were the experts on the NRP team? Minister Powell? Only after the Licence had been granted and the deal made with West Indies Power do we now see the OAS being re-engaged to provide expert help to the NRP Government. Why was there a gap of nearly 2 years before the OAS was re-engaged? Who guided the NRP Government in the interim on this highly technical and scientific matter?
What guided the NRP Government in their grant of the licence to West Indies Power? Now in May of 2008, we understand that legislation is being drafted to, among other things, direct how licences should be granted and what such licences should contain. But West Indies Power has had a Licence since January of 2007 long before any legislation has been put in place to guide the grant of such licences. On what basis then was a Licence granted? On what authority and on what terms? What legislation guided the NRP in doing their deal with West Indies Power when they claim only now to be drafting legislation?
The former CCM Administration under the auspices of the OAS had a programme where competitive bids would be invited from various geothermal companies to explore the resource in Nevis. The NRP jumped up and granted an exclusive to West Indies Power after less than 6 months in office. No bids were invited. The NRP chose to deal exclusively with one developer. How then do we know that the people of Nevis got or will get the best deal? Old people say that hungry dogs often eat raw meat. Why was the NRP in such a rush to do an exclusive deal with West Indies Power?
I have set out the facts above and asked some questions which I believe all Nevisians should be interested in knowing the answers to. I believe that it is time that the obvious attempts to mislead the public end and some light is brought to the darkness which is now surrounding the deal made between the NRP led Government and West Indies Power. I trust when that light so shines, the people of Nevis will not learn that the NRP has sold geothermal lock stock and barrel to a foreign investor. And so I end where I started, what is the deal between the Nevis Island Government and West Indies Power on the exploration and development of geothermal energy in Nevis? The public deserves to know the true story about this mysterious golden handshake.
Honourable Mark Brantley