Cahill CEO seeks to reassure Barbadians
The Guernsey-based plasma gasification company, Cahill Energy seems baffled by “the continuing objections from Barbadians” regarding the controversial waste-to-energy project, with Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Clare Cowan blaming “incredible misinformation” for the resistance.
Cowan did not name the source of the misinformation, but Opposition Leader Mia Mottley has repeatedly questioned the reliability of the technology, the anticipated environmental impact, the viability of the project and the cost to Barbadians. In her contribution to the Appropriation Bill in the House of Assembly in March, Mottley also called on Government to make public the details of the agreement.
“There are enough questions to show that this cannot be a viable proposition in this year of our Lord. . . . Will the energy be sold to the Light & Power, and has the Light & Power agreed to an offtake agreement as yet?
“All of these are questions that the Minister needs to tell us if he is going to use it as the closing piece of his 2014/2015 Estimates,” she said at the time, adding that her research had discovered that plasma gasification technology was not widely used internationally, and as such was “largely untested commercially”.
Cowan was at pains this morning to explain to Barbados TODAY, in an interview at the Hilton Barbados, that there was nothing underhand about the deal with Government, which she said came after several months of negotiations.
“It is implied that we went in one day and got the agreement. But that’s not the way it went. We negotiated for 18 months to get our agreement,” Cowan said.
“We, Cahill, are the developer. We have to go out and get all the professionals, we arrange all of the studies and we are the ones who have to convince investors that it is a worthwhile investment,” she insisted.
Following a very heated town hall meeting last night, at which she was asked why her company had chosen Barbados, the Cahill boss said several Caribbean countries had expressed an interest in the $700 million project, planned for Vaucluse, St Thomas.
She did not say which countries, but explained that the company decided to locate the plant here because investors had shown faith in Barbados based on its stability as a place in which to do business.
“. . . not all Caribbean governments qualify for that. Some investors are just skittish about certain countries and they won’t go near them.
“Barbados has an educated population, which is really important . . . . Also, Barbados is an international business centre. That’s very important when you are running a business like this, that you can conduct normal business in a normal way. So Barbados was the ideal choice,” Cowan explained.
The CEO said she understood the passion behind Barbadians’ objections. However, she said there were several facts that could not be overlooked, including the number of jobs the project would create.
She emphasized that the initiative would not cost the Barbadian taxpayer anything but it would create over 700 jobs during its construction and 70 to 75 permanent jobs on completion. Furthermore, Cowan said the waste-to-energy project had received international approval and it “actually makes Barbados a healthier and safer place to live”.
“Logically if you think about it, you don’t come in to spend that kind of money and hurt people. This is such a safe technology,” Cowan assured, while pointing out that health and safety authorities in North America, Europe and major Asian countries – China, India and Japan – had approved the technology.
“So in a strange way you’d be saying all of those governments made a mistake and only Barbados got it right.”
The CEO revealed that work had already started on the controversial multi-million dollar project, with waste studies and sampling completed, and a front end engineering design contract negotiated.
During her five-day visit, Cowan said she held meetings with Government ministers to discuss the way forward for the project.