St Vincent and the Grenadines is considering other options as the three wells dug on the slopes of the La Soufriere volcano as part of the geothermal energy project have failed to produce the required permeability.
Project Manager Ellsworth Dacon, speaking on the State-owned NBC Radio, said the Government is now in discussion with a company that has “a model like a radiator, like a motor car radiator” after the Iceland firm that owns the drilling rig has demobilised it and has begun shipping it to Spain for its next project.
“It’s like a closed loop and the more loops you have, the more energy you can get. They don’t want to see permeability. All they are interested in is hot rock. So they are happy not to have permeability and they are happy that the temperature is 250 degrees Celsius; so what you have is heat transfer. You have a closed loop, you have a benign transfer and you have a series of loops,” he added.
The wells have registered a temperature of 250 degrees Celsius, but the rocks do not have the level of porosity that would allow for converting that heat into electricity.
Dacon, however, said this requires horizontal drilling underground and is quite costly and that another company has a patent for “some optical-sensing device that can sense where the permeable areas would be.
“We have to work within the target prices. It makes no sense [to] say yes; we have a geothermal plant and we have signed a new deal with a new company and at the end of the day, it is not cheaper for Vincentians.”— Ellsworth Dacon, director of the Energy Unit, St Vincent and the Grenadines
“And they are bringing the capital. As developers, they have indicated to us that they have the capital to take it forward,” he said, noting that he believes a third company, which specialises in well stimulation, can stimulate the three wells “enough in a method that is safe to enhance and increase the flow of the fluid.
“We have to examine with the bank all the environmental concerns but, more importantly, the cost,” Dacon said, noting that all of the options come with a cost and the price would determine the Government’s financial decision.
“We have to work within the target prices. It makes no sense [to] say yes; we have a geothermal plant and we have signed a new deal with a new company and at the end of the day, it is not cheaper for Vincentians.
“So we have a particular financial model that we must work within and we have a target. So we have to look at capital assumptions with some contingencies and stipulate what are our conditions. And one of the conditions is for cheaper electricity to consumers,” Dacon said.
The Government has secured the US$92 million needed to finance the entire project, with a small portion of it coming from public funds and the remainder as grants.
Dacon said that he would not say that the money spent on the project was a waste of resources.
“First of all, we did get grants and grants are usually paid by taxpayers somewhere. It may not be by Vincentians but they are some contributions, perhaps from taxpayers. So we have to be very responsible, even in the use of grants and I think we were.
“It’s a hypothesis. We did all the background checks, we did all the scientific work, we had a theory and we believed it to be here and we weren’t successful in finding the permeability. I have heard and I have seen a WhatsApp question about why did we go into the larger drilling of wells versus what you call slim hole drilling.”
Dacon noted that some individuals have said that the Government should have dug exploratory wells, also known as slim holes, but he said that a slim well is cheaper, requires a smaller crew and uses less cement.
“But it tells you, it gives you a temperature gradient. It does not [necessarily] intercept into a permeable zone. So if you went into test drilling or slim holes as it is suggested, all it would have indicated to us is that we had a temperature gradient.
“We were drilling into a very deep reservoir diagonally. And to access that permeable zone, we could not have done slim well drilling… It is not a case where we spent more than we needed to spend.”
He said a slim well would have cost two million US dollars while a permanent hole costs US$8 million dollars.
“But we just couldn’t access the permeable zone using the slim well,” he said, noting that the government would have had to mobilise a smaller slim well drill then demobilise it.
“So, at the end of the day, it would be more expensive to result in more or less the same,” he told radio listeners.