With the loss of bagasse following the closure of the Skeldon sugar estate, Skeldon Energy Inc (SEI) is seeking new sources of biomass for its co-generation plant but a consultation it held on Thursday did not yield much success.
Moreover, SEI was criticised at the forum for using firewood while the country seeks to go green. Firewood has been in use since the start of the year. Questions were also raised at the forum about whether the decision to close the Skeldon estate at the end of 2017 had taken account of the impact on the power plant, which had been a vital part of the sugar modernisation project on the Corentyne.
The meeting, which was held at the training building in the estate’s compound, was chaired by Gobin Harbhajan, the Prime Minister’s Representative in Region Six. Also in attendance were Lloyd Rose, Chairman of SEI, Carl Duncan, Consultant/ Projects Manager of SEI and other top SEI officials along with over 40 Corentyne businesspersons and other stakeholders.
After the cogeneration plant was hived off by the government from GuySuCo in 2015 and SEI was created to run it, SEI purchased bagasse from the Skeldon Estate to fuel the power plant. With this source no longer available, potential suppliers of other biomass are now being sought. The persons gathered at Thursday’s meeting were told that by looking for potential suppliers SEI will ultimately create economic benefits within the community and jobs.
According to Harbhajan, overseas suppliers have shown interest in becoming suppliers. However, they are pushing for local persons to come on board, since it would be a good investment for them. He said a study was done in 2016 which showed that there are enough materials locally to be supplied to the plant.
Harbhajan, a former SEI board member, said “Cogeneration needs about 100,000 tonnes of biomass per year, so a man with a canter can make an honest living, sawmills does throw away most of these things and same thing with the rice farmers, people would now be able to bring it to the co-gen (plant) and when they work out the price and so etc. they can earn something. When people got to cut wood sometimes they leave pieces behind. They can now bring these and earn something too.”
He added that not only the Corentyne area can benefit but persons throughout the region.
He disclosed that SEI has been purchasing wood since January from persons in Baracara up the Berbice River and Mara Village, East Bank Berbice and other areas. He said an approximate price per tonne presently is $5, 500.
The gathering on Thursday was told that the company is offering $4,000 to $5, 000 per tonne for rice husk or rice straw. It was also stressed that the price is negotiable. Duncan said, “We cannot go beyond a certain amount because it becomes uneconomical for us… Why we would pay a little more than normal is because of the economic benefit it would create in the community. That’s why we are prepared to go a little higher than what we were paying for bagasse from Skeldon Estate.”
Persons gathered highlighted that the amount being paid per tonne for rice husk would not be economical for persons to supply when factoring in the transport costs.
Duncan responded by saying, “There has to be some mechanism for densifying it before you can transport it because we have already tested the transportation cost and not only the cost but the hazard of transporting.”
Those gathered noted that certain machinery would be needed to complete some of those things. However, the officials explained that if SEI has contracts in place with persons then the company may consider investing in the necessary machinery.
Businessman and President of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce Mohamed Raffik, while agreeing that the initiative will create jobs for persons in the region and that this was commendable, also told the officials bluntly that what they were trying to do was “not possible.”
After listening to the officials, Raffik turned around their figures by explaining that “it is a lot of weight and what you are trying to achieve is not possible.”
He also highlighted that the country is going “green” and SEI is looking for renewable energy but is doing so by cutting down trees. “You are talking about renewable energy but you are cutting down trees,” Raffik remonstrated.
Raffik argued that instead of the Skeldon Estate being closed by government, it could have been allowed to continue to operate and produce bagasse. He questioned whether the plant was even factored into the government’s decision to close/privatise the estate. He said that he believes that SEI should push for more production of bagasse.
He suggested that farmers be allowed to plant their own cane and operate their own sugar operations, as rice farmers are doing, which would see production of bagasse, sugar and employment.
SEI officials said that while some of the questions may not be for them, the harvesting of firewood is a short term plan. Duncan said that a long term plan would be to embark on planting fuel grass on cane lands. He also said, that they would encourage cane farmers who have lands to consider planting the fuel grass themselves.
Skeldon Co-generation Plant
The Skeldon Co-generation Plant comprises a 2×15 megawatts steam generation plant and a 10 megawatts HFO generating plant. It was commissioned in 2009 as part of the Skeldon Sugar Modernisation Project, which was the first project in Guyana to be registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In April, 2015, a month before general elections, former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Winston Brassington announced that GuySuCo was selling the co-generation plant and three Wartsila power units at Skeldon to SEI, a state-owned company specially created for the purpose, at a price of US$30 million.
According to a press statement issued then, SEI was being funded with equity financing of US$5 million from NICIL, US$4 million from GPL and US$21 million in debt financing from GPL and local and international financial institutions.