The solar panel park in St. Eustatius which will make twenty per cent of the electricity that is produced on the island sustainable should be completed in March 2016. A similar park is planned for Saba. In the meantime, research proceeds in Saba to generate geothermal energy.
Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen stated this during a plenary debate of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday evening. On the agenda was the Caribbean Netherlands Electricity and Potable Water Law which regulates the production and distribution of electricity and drinking water in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
The tariffs and subsidy were the main topic in that debate, but sustainable energy was also a much discussed subject. Members of the Second Chamber Roelof van Laar of the Labour Party PvdA, Agnes Mulder of the Christian Democratic Party CDA and Barbara Visser of the liberal democratic VVD party all questioned the Minister about government’s intentions to get sustainable energy resources off the ground on the islands.
These efforts should not only involve a few occasional projects, but it should be dealt with in a programmatic manner, in the opinion of the CDA. “Solid investments in sustainable energy can truly help the people,” said Agnes Mulder, aiming at the lower energy prices associated with sustainable energy, versus the expensive diesel oil that is now used to generate electricity and to produce water.
Mulder submitted a motion, co-signed by Roelof van Laar, to draft a plan by the summer of 2016 that aims to realise affordable and maximum sustainable energy facilities in the Caribbean Netherlands, if possible 100 per cent sustainable.
Van Laar asked why there was not more emphasis on sustainable energy while the circumstances on the islands were good to generate more energy through wind and sun. Barbara Visser wanted to know about the possibilities to use geothermal energy in Saba. “This would be an effective way of utilising the subsidies,” she said.
Minister Schultz van Haegen stated that the new electricity and drinking water law, once approved, would eliminate the current legal prohibition of the use of private solar panels. This is good news for residents and companies that want to install solar panels to lower their electricity bill.
The Minister said that the construction of the solar park in St. Eustatius would be completed in March 2016, which would increase the share of sustainable energy from the current zero per cent to 20 per cent. In 2016, the second solar project will start in St. Eustatius which will increase the share by another 20 per cent. A subsidy of 5.3 million euros has been granted for this project.
In Saba, plans are in the making for a solar park as well which would increase the share of sustainable energy by 20 per cent. There is also a follow-up plan for more solar panels after the first project. A subsidy of two million euros has been reserved. The option to install windmills, as is the case in Bonaire, is difficult on the two islands due to regular passing of hurricanes, the Minister clarified.
Schultz van Haegen explained that the Dutch Government, in consultation with the Saba Government, is working steadily on exploiting the options for geothermal energy from Saba’s volcanic sources. Initial research was carried out in 2012, which resulted in a 30 per cent success rate for the generation of geothermal energy. “This is an attractive option if it succeeds.”
The Netherlands Enterprise Agency of the Dutch Government is currently doing a pre-study of geothermal energy in Saba. “The problem is the complexity and the toll that drilling would have on Saba’s nature. There is also little available space on the island. A geothermal facility would generate too much energy for Saba alone, so the other islands would have to participate,” she said.
This means that agreements would have to be made about the dividing of costs among the companies and the islands, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten. Electricity cables would also have be laid over the bottom of the ocean. Geophysical research and test drillings are necessary as well. “That makes it a complex and lengthy affair.”
In the meantime, the Saba Electric Company is operating at a loss, which means that annual subsidies will remain a necessity for the coming years. However, the solar park will help to reduce cost. The possibility of granting subsidies is part of the new Caribbean Netherlands Electricity and Potable Water Law.
Providing sufficient and high-quality drinking water remains a complex affair in St. Eustatius and Saba, said Schultz van Haegen. “I agree that this has insufficiently materialised on the islands. One of the reasons is that you can’t fix waterlines for 8,000 households on a rocky surface. So we are looking at other forms, such as more storage capacity and better quality of water.”
The Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment I&M is investing US $2.6 million to improve the drinking water services. The water storage capacity is being expanded since 2013. This storage should be completed next year. “This will enable the bridging of dry periods, such as the one in 2015.” There are also projects to improve the quality of drinking water in Saba and St. Eustatius.
The Minister supported the motion submitted by Van Laar to research the possibilities to introduce a pre-paid system in St. Eustatius and Saba which makes it possible for residents to purchase drinking water for daily use under three cubic meters at an affordable tariff that is charged in the Netherlands.
The Second Chamber will vote on the law proposal and the related amendments and motions on Tuesday. Van Laar submitted an amendment to introduce a special, reduced electricity and drinking water tariff for low income families. This would mean a big help for people with a minimum income or living under the poverty line who cannot afford the high energy bills.
Reinette Klever of the Party for Freedom PVV submitted an amendment and a related motion to eliminate the annual subsidy of the Dutch Government for the water and electricity companies on the islands. According to Klever, the yearly US $8 million subsidy for the three islands should not be carried by the Dutch taxpayer.
The Daily Herald.