WATT YOU SAY? LATEST BUZZ ON GEOTHERMAL

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By John Denny

Observer Reporter

(Nevis) – Volcano worship is still part of Hawaiian culture, but it could happen here, too, once Mount Nevis starts providing cheap, clean and a surplus of electricity to everyone on the island.

West Indies Power CEO Kerry McDonald said the drilling is going well and nearly on schedule at the Nevis 1 geothermal site in Spring Hill. If the geologic estimates are right and barring any unforeseen problems, West Indies Power will be on Nevis for some time.

“The US Department of Energy estimates there is 900 megawatts (MW) of power on Nevis,” Mr. McDonald said. “If we develop half that much, we will be here 10 years.”

According to Mr. McDonald, Nevis uses six megawatts constantly. This is known as the base load. At peak times, such as when everyone gets up in the morning and starts turning on lights and air conditioners, usage on Nevis can go as high as 10 megawatts. The base load for both islands of the Federation is 45 megawatts. Half of the geothermal potential on Nevis is 10 times as much electricity as the Federation uses day in – day out.

The surplus could be exported to neighboring islands in two ways: either alternating current or direct current. High voltage alternating current can be transmitted through undersea cables only to a distance of about 70 miles, but if it is converted (or inverted, or rectified) to DC, undersea cables can transmit a billion watts of power up to 1,200 miles. The prohibitive aspect of exporting electricity to neighboring countries is the cost, Mr. McDonald said.

“Geothermal has very high infrastructure costs,” said Mr. McDonald. “All the cost is up front.”

West Indies Power is paying for the development of the geothermal field on Nevis and they will be wholesaling the electricity that is generated to Nevlec.

There is some maintenance costs involved in geothermal power generation, but the fuel is free. The fuel is a magma chamber deep below Mount Nevis. At the present Nevisians are paying about EC$.80 per kilowatt hour (Kwh) for electricity. A substantial portion of that is the fuel surcharge.

“Nevlec will be our only customer,” said Mr. McDonald. “They will continue to sell electricity to the individual customers and maintain the poles and the lines.”

It would be up to Nevlec as to what the new price for electricity would be, but he said it would probably be about half of what it is now Mr. McDonald said.

Iceland has been on the cutting edge of developing geothermal fields and they have put their vast surplus of energy to use in a number of ways. The biggest industry Iceland has drawn is smelting aluminum. McDonald said Nevis would be better suited to use geothermal energy in agricultural production or by bringing computing services to the island because of the high power demands in that industry.

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