Energy Minister Asks MUL For Report on Power, Believes Geothermal is Montserrat’s Future

The Ministry of Communications, Works, Energy and Labour (MCWEL) is awaiting the results of a report from the island’s power company on the ongoing outages and what long term solutions should be considered for delivering residents and businesses with affordable, stable and reliable electricity.

Energy Minister and Deputy Premier Dr. Samuel Joseph said Monday in a live streamed briefing that frustration is building on island. Not only from the economic, social and health pressures of the pandemic but from the ongoing power outages that have plagued the island for several weeks now. He called on executives at Montserrat Utilities Ltd. (MUL) to explain to the public the situation and what is being done to rectify the power cuts.

These outages echo similar events in 2016, which led to the emergency purchase of a 1.5 megawatt generator, in addition to the 1.5 megawatt generator which was purchased as part of a CDB loan to construct a new power station. Similar outages took place in 2018 at which time the temporary high-speed generators which kept the island powered from the early days of the volcanic crisis had to be relied upon to provide energy.

Joseph spent the 18-minute talk discussing the situation with the power generators operated by MUL. On a normal day, Montserrat needs 2 megawatts of power.

He acknowledged that there is some confusion as to why with 1 megawatts of solar power, a fairly new generator system, a generator purchased in 2016 and the original gen sets the island still had frequent outages. The minister said there are five generators and two are down for major repairs. MUL is currently sourcing the parts. He explained that the 750KW solar plant in Lookout has not yet been commissioned and so not in the grid. One other generator went down, which left two to power the island’s needs, which led to load shedding.

Minister Joseph said “some generators are not talking to each other.” Even though there is more than enough power being generated because the systems are not compatible they are unable to deliver the electricity needed across the island.

If Montserrat is to progress we must have stable power, the energy minister declared.

An emergency board meeting of MUL has been called to discuss a way out of the current dilemma and the future of electrical power here.

The questions to be answered include, can the generators be repaired, is it cheaper to purchase new generators, should we consider a shift to geothermal energy, what will be the cost of electricity in any of the chosen scenarios?

MCWEL is awaiting answers on the technical situation on the ground in order for a decision to be made on what is best. Joseph said executives at MUL are confident that the 1.8MW High Speed Diesel Generator Genset #5 can be repaired after which they will turn to repairing two other generators which are down.

“We can’t get to the moon by climbing a tree,” stated Joseph. “What is our long term goal? Is it to keep repairing and patching to stay on diesel?”

The minister said as Montserrat has a goal that by 2030 they will be generating its own power source there was a need to set this in motion.

Joseph said the government needs to put all of its resources into renewable energy. To this end, his ministry is preparing to release Terms of Reference into the marketplace for the generation and delivery of geothermal energy to the people of Montserrat. He said one of the goals must be that the cost of electricity is reduced. The actual reduction must be realistic and based on the market.

While the government is prepared to ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) if they have any interest in financing the development of the geothermal resource here, it would not stop movement on the plans, the minister added.

The former DFID now FCDO financed the drilling of three wells. Only Mon#1 and Mon#2 were completed. Mon#3 experienced problems and was never completed. There was never any clear announcement of what was the reason for abandoning the well.

Joseph said Montserrat must have control of our own destiny. Whatever choice we made must be followed through.

MCWEL has also drafted a geothermal resource act which is to be submitted to cabinet shortly. This act will provide the legislation for licensing and taking the geothermal resource to market.

The minister wants to make a definitive decision on Montserrat’s power situation in 2022. “I can’t say we will never have another blackout but w will never get to the place of energy independence unless we take a long term view of our situation and focus on renewable energy.”