The small island of Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean is sometimes referred to as “the nature isle of the Caribbean” thanks to its awe-inspiring natural beauty. As a relatively young island, it is still being formed by geothermal-volcanic activity, which points to the island’s incredible potential in renewable energy. We recently spoke to Dave Stamp, Generation Manager (Acting General Manager at the time of the interview) at Dominica Electricty Company Limited (Domlec) about how the company sees the island’s energy situation evolving.
Domlec began life in 1949, when it was established by the Colonial Development Corporation (giving some clue into the island’s long colonial past). In 1976, the government of the day purchased 49% of the company’s shares, before buying the remaining shares in 1987. Ten years later, in 1997, the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) purchased a majority shareholding (approximately 73%). After changing hands a couple more times, these shares were then sold to the Canadian Emera Corporation – the current majority shareholder – in 2013.
Shortly before the Emera takeover, Mr. Stamp joined the firm. He joins at a time when the company has just about completed one journey – the electrification of the island (over 95% of the island has access) and now seems set to start another – the movement of the island towards using 100% renewable energy sources. As Mr. Stamp tells us: “The current energy mix at the firm, in terms of production, is about 30% hydro and 70% diesel generation. The generation capacity of the firm is 27MW, of which about 6MW is hydro and the reminder being diesel.”
Domlec’s energy perogative: A move towards sustainability
Dominica is the most sparsely populated island in the Eastern Caribbean, which creates obvious challenges for a company like Domlec. However, the company manages to meet this demand, in addition to having some energy supply in reserve to cater, for example, for the island’s unpredictable hurriane season. Mr. Stamp explains: “We operate on an N-2 prinicpal, where we have a firm capacity which we’ve agreed with our regulators. This means that if 2 of our largest generators are in maintenance, we’re still able to meet our obligations.”
While the island’s topography also creates further challenges for infrastructure development, it also brings opportunities for a firm like Domlec. Mr. Stamp tells us: “Dominica’s geothermal potential is extremely high. Most estimates that I’ve seen show that this island has the highest geothermal potential of all the islands in the Eastern Caribbean. The size we’re talking about is anywhere between 500 and 1,000 GW.
Wind is another potential avenue – particularly on the island’s leeward eastern side. However, the topography means that the construction, installation and access to these high wind areas prohibitively expensive for now: Dominica’s GDP per capita is less than $15,000 per year. That said, confident economic growth on the island means that the wind option becomes more possible with every passing year. In short, no sustainable solution is ruled out entirely: “We believe fossil fuels are completely unsustainable for the island, so we’re looking to move towards completely renewable energy by 2025.”
Other avenues being looked at by the firm are even more adventurous. Visitors to the island will be pleasantly surprised by the number of LED lights and energy-efficient devices they find being used in everyday life on the island. Plans are also afoot for the importation of hybrid and fully electric cars. Most of this has come about as part of Domlec’s initiative. Mr. Stamp says: “We are currently championing electric cars on the island. We’re putting the marketing and promotion side into play. We’re introducing a policy to make all cars in DOMLEC either electric or hybrid. There is a challenge in that not all vehicles come in electric or hybrid forms but we’ll do it whereever possible.”
“Also, we’re promoting several energy-efficient devices. We’re going out there with the government and encouraging people to use LED devices and changing street lights to LED. There are a number of initiatives like this that we’re championing across the island.”
Resources and Suppliers
With less than 100,000 people on the island, one might assume that HR posed considerable difficulty, but not according to Stamp: “Generally speaking, we can provide for human resources from what we have in Dominica. We employ about 200 staff across all our operations. We’re a fully integrated operation, so we have transmission, distribution and customer service. So we do everything from generation right through to billing and so on.”
Currently, well over 90% of the staff are Dominican and siince we became part of the ECI (Emera Caribbean Inc) group (a Canadian -Caribbean organization), it has begun collaborating with other affiliates of the organization, including sharing resources, which has been a very productive strategy. The lack of a large port facility or international airport for example has been an issue with respect to facster and more efficient supply chain management until now, but once which the island is addressing better thanks to being part of the ECI I and improving its supply chain management.
Domlec has supply contract arrangements in place with local providers like RUBIS West Indies and Petro Caribe Energy Union – in both cases to supply the island’s diesel requirements. In more technical areas, its suppliers include RIMCO (spares parts and technical assistance for the island’s CAT engines), Man B&W Diesel (who provide maintenance for the island’s MAN engines) and BridgeWell Resources, a US firm that provides it with poles.
The journey to 2025
The fact that Dominica and Domlec are so determined to reach 100% clean energy inside 10 years is an example to many larger and wealthier countries, who instead plan for incremental changes year on year. Domlec acquired two operating licenses for the country’s energy plants just recently and both extend for 25 years.
Mr. Stamp says: “We’re in ongoing discussions with the government to see how the geothermal plant can be developed, integrated into the existing grid, and the management of the operations. . It would also give us an opportunity to meet some of our mandates, where we need to substantially increase our renewable portfolio/mix ” Fifty years after the old energy plants run by British colonialists on the island closed down, their remains can still be seen. They point to the island’s complicated past and dependence on dirty energy. Now, the signs of a confident, sustainable future – electric cars, geothermal energy, LED street lights and smart grids – are everywhere. Thanks to Domlec, Dominica will generate energy while remaining the nature isle of the Caribbean.
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