Parliament responds positively to clean energy plan for Saba

The Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament responded positively to Thursday’s presentation of Bluerise, a company that wants to set up an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) system in Saba to generate electricity and possibly produce drinking water for the island.

The Committee had invited Bluerise from Delft to give a presentation about the possibilities of OTEC in Saba. Bluerise is already executing a similar project in Curaçao, although on a much larger scale, while it’s also eying Jamaica, Colombia and Sri Lanka.

Bluerise Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Remi Blokker, assisted by Vicepresident Business Development Diego Acevedo, a sustainable energy technology graduate of the Technical University Delft who lives in Aruba, explained that Saba had much to gain from OTEC, a system which uses the difference between the cold, deep ocean water and the warm top layer of the sea to generate energy. The system uses a pipe carefully laid on the ocean floor to pump up the sea water and another, shorter pipe to extract the warm water on top.

Bluerise Chief Executive Officer Remi Blokker (centre) and Bluerise Vice-president Business Development Diego Acevedo (left) with Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party shortly before Thursday’s presentation. (Suzanne Koelega photo)
Bluerise Chief Executive Officer Remi Blokker (centre) and Bluerise Vice-president Business Development Diego Acevedo (left) with Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party shortly before Thursday’s presentation. (Suzanne Koelega photo)

The electricity that is generated from this process is clean (100 per cent sustainable) and reliable (the installation runs 24/7). The current electricity plant uses diesel generators which are not environmentally friendly, and which are also expensive to operate due to the cost of fuel which has to be imported. “In the OTEC system, the source, namely the ocean, is widely available and it is for free. It is a beautiful solution, one that is highly suitable for the islands,” said Blokker.

Contrary to diesel generators, the OTEC system requires a rather large investment, at least 10 million Euros. However, the operational expenditures after the initial investment are low. Diesel generators run at a much higher operational cost.

An additional advantage is that the OTEC system can produce drinking water through a condensation process, which would alleviate Saba’s problem of water defi ciency during a dry spell at a much lower cost than is currently offered.

According to Blokker, French authorities are constructing an OTEC system in Martinique, while similar systems already exist in Hawaii and Japan. The system in Hawaii has been operating for 30 years without problems and it even has withstood hurricanes and earthquakes, said Blokker, responding to a question of the Kingdom Relations Committee as to the feasibility and success rate of OTEC projects elsewhere.

Bluerise has made a quick scan of the prospects for Saba. Possible areas for laying the pipes on the ocean fl oor and the construction of the small installation on land or on a platform close to shore include Flat Point and Fort Bay. However, more information on the geographical situation under water is needed in order to determine the most suitable area for the installation.

A sea bottom study would be part of the feasibility study and would also shed more light on questions by the Committee Members relating to the investment cost of the project, the location, and the price benefi ts for the residents. Blokker estimated the maximum cost of this feasibility study at 100,000 Euros in case an extensive sea bottom/geographical survey would be needed.

The OTEC installation itself would cost anywhere between 10 and 50 million Euros, calculated Blokker, who couldn’t provide an exact figure because this would require an in-depth analysis. He believed that the electricity could be generated at a competitive price in comparison to the existing diesel generators, especially when the system was also used to produce potable water.

Member of Parliament (MP) Roelof van Laar of the Labour Party PvdA asked if the OTEC system was feasible cost-wise considering that the current diesel generators were only installed two years ago. He also pointed out that the Second Chamber has asked the Dutch Government to strive for 100 per cent sustainable energy in the Caribbean Netherlands.

Van Laar also requested a letter of Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk to keep the Second Chamber informed of the efforts to introduce sustainable energy projects such as the one offered by Bluerise.

Van Laar further asked about the possibilities for St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Bonaire, while Committee Chairman Jeroen Recourt wanted to know whether it was feasible to hook up neighbouring islands St. Maarten and St. Eustatius to the OTEC system in Saba. Recourt shared his enthusiasm for the clean energy project which could benefit the Saba people through lower utility tariffs.

Blokker explained that the OTEC system could be set up in all islands. Bigger islands would enjoy the scale benefits of a larger installation with more users. As for hooking up St. Maarten and St. Eustatius to the Saba OTEC system, he said that this was technically a possibility, but that this aspect would have to be further investigated. Bluerise is currently developing the Ocean Ecopark project for Curaçao’s airport building and surroundings which involves the OTEC system.

Bluerise will give a presentation to Saba Commissioners Bruce Zagers and Chris Johnson when they visit the Netherlands next week. Blokker said that Minister Plasterk was already aware of Bluerise’s ambitions. Talks with the Dutch Ministries of Infrastructure and Environment, and of Economic Affairs still have to take place.

The Daily Herald.

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