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THE HOYOS FILE: Half-billion-dollar ‘gasification’ of Barbados’ garbage


Pat Hoyos

THE HOYOS FILE: Half-billion-dollar ‘gasification’ of Barbados’ garbage

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Unless you were involved in the alternative energy business prior to last week’s announcement by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler about a “plasma gasification” plant in the offing for Barbados, you probably never heard of a company called AlterNRG until you saw it mentioned in a Press release put out by Cahill Energy last week.

Cahill Energy has signed a contract with the Barbados Government “to build and operate a leading edge clean energy plant on the Caribbean island” at a cost of US$240 million. That’s half a billion Barbados dollars. But, on the bright side, these projects hardly ever overrun their budgets.

I couldn’t find out much about Cahill Energy (one-page website), except that it is a subsidiary of Cahill International (also one-page website – who would have guessed?) but both are headed by Clare Cowan, who was pictured in a photo accompanying the statement. I got that impression from reading its company profile on ZoomInfo, which is a treat worthy of digestion, being so sweet.

Cahill International, it notes, is a company comprising “prominent individuals whose backgrounds at the summit of statecraft and business facilitate entrée [sic] to major corporate opportunities around the world”. It is, you may like to know, also “a leader in mega project development”, coming up with “compelling” projects, for which it “develops a winning strategy” and “sources structured funding”.

Anyway, back to the Press release.

“Cahill Energy plans to utilise the most innovative technology available to transform all kinds of waste on Barbados into clean, renewable energy.” This is where AlterNRG comes in. “AlterNRG owns 100% of Westinghouse Plasma Corporation,” noted the release, “a world leader in plasma gasification technology, which is expected to supply the plasma gasification technology.”

Westinghouse Plasma’s technology was already in use in six commercial facilities worldwide. Of those six sites, only one currently is geared to producing energy from household waste: the others are involved mainly in industrial and often hazardous waste conversion.

One, by the way, stopped operating because they couldn’t find enough raw material for it. The one doing household waste is located in the northeast of England at Teesdale. It was purchased for US$21 million by US company Air Products, which plans to build four more like it in Britain, selling the energy to local electric companies. For that kind for money, they are getting a plant that will convert 950 tonnes per day of household waste into 50MW of electricity, according to the AlterNRG report.

“The facility is expected to start commissioning in the first half of 2014 and will be the world’s largest plasma gasification facility by a significant margin,” it says (AlterNRG Financial Report Q3 2013, page 14). The one we are supposedly buying will have the capacity to take 650 tonnes of solid waste per day, said the Cahill PR.

The whole project, including the gasification plant itself, is going to cost a quarter of a billion US dollars, to be repaid under a BOLT by Barbados taxpayers over 30 years. When is investment not investment? When it’s a BOLT. Then it’s a mortgage. Around our collective necks. BWA HQ. Marina. Cruise Terminal. Prison. And lots more to come, I bet. (Arthur wanted to do it with the flyovers.) Presumably the MW output of “our” gasification plant (see? I am learning to love my chains) will be one-third less than 50MW, since it will take one-third less tonnage per day. The rest, I guess, is for infrastructure.

Do we produce that much garbage a day? And can we get it all into this overheated monster? All that is above my pay grade. Alas, despite doing all this good work saving the world from fossil fuels and landfills of garbage, AlterNRG isn’t making any money.

Said the report: “The company continues to incur losses as it continues to build revenue and execute on its strategic plan. The accumulated deficit at September 30, 2013, was $111.9 million.” It just got another US$32 million in new investment. But, you know, it’s doubling down, focusing on building revenues from Westinghouse Plasma Technology “as projects progress into the construction phase”.

The problem for a company like this, it notes, is that the “plasma gasification business consists of large dollar sales transactions that have a long-term sales cycle”. The report added that “large scale waste-to-energy facilities have inherent risks of delay or being cancelled (same report, p.21).

Senator Darcy Boyce was quoted in the Cahill release as saying that “this waste-to-energy project is a major step to put Barbados firmly on the way to its initial target of replacing by 2029, 29 per cent of its oil-based electricity by generation from renewable and alternative energy. Indeed, this project will help Barbados significantly to reach this target ten years earlier than planned”.

By the way, not to spoil a good thing, but could we be just getting too much of one? Remember the Barbados Sugar Industry Project? Under this one “an existing sugar factory” would undergo “re-engineering” so that it could produce sugar for export, molasses for alcohol, and electricity for the national grid. In his Budget speech last August, Mr Sinckler said funding had “been agreed with the Japanese Bank of International Corporation and Japanese commercial banks for up to US$270”.

He added that “it is expected that this project will begin implementation in the first quarter of next year and run for three full years,” and would “radically reform sugar agriculture while having very positive spin-off effects on non-sugar crop production”. We are at the end of the quarter, so I guess that one has already got going, hasn’t it?

Pat Hoyos is a long-standing journalist and publisher of the Broad Street Journal.

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