Montserrat – A Geothermal
Economic Exclusion Zone?
A small island
sits on a vast
but can’t exploit
it. Here’s why.
RALPH BIRKHOFF, Contributor
The island of Montserrat is a
small British Overseas Territory
located west of Antigua and north
of Guadeloupe. It was devastated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989
and then by volcanic eruptions in
1995 and 1997 when the entire
south end of the island, includ-
ing its capital city Plymouth, were
completely buried in pyroclastic ash. This area, referred to as
the “exclusion zone” remains off limits to anything but escort-
ed access. Although there is a permanent scientifc observato-
ry manned by some of the world’s leading volcanologists, the
Soufriere Hills volcano, though still active in geological terms,
does not present a threat to the remaining population.
The population at the time of the volcanic activity was
about 13,000 and is now less than 4,800 as many of the displaced inhabitants migrated to the UK or the U.S. since the
eruptions. The UK government under DFID (Department for
International Development) has attempted to put the island
back on its feet and has spent more than £400M in the process over the last 20 years. The Montserrat government still
relies on its annual stipend of about £20M from the UK to
fnance its public sector operations and limited capital budget, but the island’s economic growth has remained stagnant. It is still without an adequate port, hospital, or modern
electrical generating station. It will be many years before it
can be self supporting again, if ever.
The island’s utility, Montserrat Utilities Limited (MUL), a
government controlled statutory body, relies on several high-speed gas powered generators housed in transport trucks
(which would normally be used as back-up generators) to
power the entire island. There is a new medium-speed diesel
generating station under construction which should be operating by the end 2016. Although peak demand is only 2. 2 MW
for the entire island, it continues to experience power outages
and distribution breakdowns due to the aging infrastructure.
Electricity rates in Montserrat are some of the highest in the
world, which, when combined with fuel tariffs equals about
US $0.52/k Wh.
The opportunities for solar and geothermal for the country are considerable. DFID is in the process of building a 3.3-MW geothermal plant, but due
to budgetary limitations impacting both
Drilling rig in