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St Lucia to tap geothermal power

Published:Wednesday | July 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The volcanic island of St Lucia plans to tap geothermal power trapped beneath sulphur springs and roiling mud pools in a rare attempt at developing alternative energy sources in the Caribbean.

The chief of Qualibou Energy Inc. said Monday that the company has signed a 30-year contract with St Lucia's government to extract geothermal power in a remote area where fumaroles are flooded with water heated by hot rocks below.

Stephen Baker, CEO of the renewable energy development company based in Nevada, said the area of underground cauldrons has proven reserves of 30 megawatts and potential reserves of an additional 140 megawatts.

"The resource is still somewhat unknown," Baker said during a Monday phone interview.

He said the deal with St Lucia is contingent on drilling getting under way within 18 months. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Currently, St Lucia derives all of its electricity from oil-burning plants, not uncommon in the sun-splashed Caribbean. For years, governments across the region have said they plan to invest in alternative energy, but have made scant progress.

Roger Joseph, spokesman for St Lucia's power utility, said he hopes the geothermal project can help reduce fossil-fuel reliance and provide some energy security for the tiny tropical island northwest of Barbados.

"All our energy is produced from oil, which we import. So from an energy-security standpoint, this gives us more options," Joseph said from the capital, Castries.

The St Lucia utility has agreed to buy the geothermal power from Qualibou if the company can deliver, but Joseph said he could not disclose more specifics.

Baker said extracting geothermal power will not damage the ecological mix on St Lucia, which is home to 160,000 people. He said the company could also potentially sell power to the nearby French Caribbean island of Martinique.

The Sulfur Springs area where drilling is planned lies near St Lucia's twin volcanic peaks, the Pitons, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The peaks, formed by a volcanic eruption about 35 million years ago, shelter several bird species, giant ferns and wild orchids and are tourist attractions.

A government spokesman, Egbert Andrew, said that drilling would occur outside the World Heritage site but declined to disclose more specifics. Other government officials could not be reached or did not return calls and emails.

- AP