No local profit in geothermal energy, says geologist

A seasoned international geologist has said that the chances of Antigua & Barbuda benefitting financially from geothermal energy not greater that 20 megawatts, is slim.

Gerald W Huttrer, who has domestic and international experience in the fields of engineering geology, mineral exploration and geothermal energy development, said, “these small amounts of power are rarely financially profitable”.

The founder of the Geothermal Management Company Inc told OBSERVER media that “five to 20 megawatts of geothermal energy is generally not a lot of power for an individual developer to go on”.

On September 1, Prime Minister Gaston Browne signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Texas-based group, Thermal Energy Partners for the investment of the US $55 million (approximately EC $150 million) dollar project.

The group’s Chief Executive Bruce Cutright said the company will first look to develop 10 megawatts of geothermal energy. The government hopes that the venture will bring a new form of energy and ensure the country is not subject to constant shifts in international oil prices.

The geologist, who has been working in the Caribbean since 1982, noted that Antigua is in one of the Eastern most parts of the Caribbean (the limestone Caribbean) and as such there has been almost no exploration for geothermal resources in Antigua or parts of Guadeloupe and parts of Barbados, “because they are outside of the normal volcanic province that is such a good target”.

Furthermore, Huttrer said it costs about US $70 to $80 million to develop 10 megawatts of geothermal energy.

“The cost of drilling such deep holes and the risk involved is extreme, so I guess I have to be slightly pessimistic when I speak to you about it,” he said Thursday on OBSERVER PM.

Fortunately, President of Thermal Energy Partners, Daniel Pfeffer, gave assurance that funding for the geothermal exploration project will not come from the government of Antigua & Barbuda.

Meanwhile, the geologist, who has had 32 years in this discipline, said while geothermal energy can be realised in one of the 11 volcanic islands of the Caribbean, the same cannot be said for Antigua & Barbuda.

According to Huttrer’s research, the volcanic rocks underlying the southwest part of Antigua are on an average age, 30 and 40 years old.  “There has been very little or no volcanic activity on Antigua since that period of time. Historically around the world, volcanic emanations have got to be in the vicinity of 25,000 to 1,000,000 years old preferably younger in order to have viable geothermal deposits.”

So the chances of striking actual hot molten rock or the heat generated by volcanism beneath Antigua, Hattrer said in his opinion are “not great”.