On turning the negative to positive

There is a well-known saying that out of every bad can come some good. The challenge, however, always lies in spotting the good and embracing the opportunity. Human nature, being what it is, causes people in general to dwell so much on the negative, it can have the effect of overshadowing and obscuring whatever positive there is.

Our CARICOM neighbour Montserrat is demonstrating that it is possible to extricate good from bad. Readers may recall that in July, 1995, some 20 years ago, the Emerald Isle was catastrophically shaken after the Soufriere Hills Volcano, outside the capital Plymouth, violently roared back to life after lying dormant for over 100 years.

There was significant destruction and dislocation. Half of the 39-square-mile island became an uninhabitable exclusion zone, Plymouth was destroyed, countless homes and other property were lost, a significant percentage of the population moved abroad and the 5,000 who remained, relocated to the “safe” north to begin rebuilding their shattered lives.

Twenty years on, the volcano has largely settled down, though still active but not on a worrying scale. As a result, authorities are moving to tap a spin-off development opportunity which they believe holds tremendous promise to reduce the British colony’s dependence on fossil fuel and significantly slash high electricity costs, said to be the highest in the region.

Encouraging results from tests conducted on two 9,500 feet wells by Icelandic geothermal energy experts, suggest a combined potential to generate 3.0 megawatts of power from this volcanic source, well exceeding current daily demand for 1.7 megawatts produced from imported oil, and making the island fully self-sufficient.

The two wells, which struck temperatures of up to 260 degrees Centigrade, were dug in the last two years at a cost of US$13 million under a British-funded project. A third well is to be dug next year to facilitate further testing.

According to a report this week on the project by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), residential customers in Montserrat currently pay the equivalent of US50 cents per kilowatt hour, above the regional average of US33 cents.

The entrance to the BBC building is seen in White City in western London

Neighbouring St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Nevis are also tapping their underground volcanic resources to assess the potential for generating geothermal energy and, according to the BBC, are seeing encouraging results as well. Geothermal energy is produced when volcanic activity causes water to be heated underground to high temperatures, producing a consistent supply of pressurized steam which can be used to turn electricity-generating turbines.

By lowering electricity costs and enhancing the island’s global competitiveness, Montserrat officials are counting on the success of the project to revitalize the economy by stimulating inflows of foreign investment and boosting the island’s image, from a tourism marketing perspective, as an eco-friendly destination through the complete switch to renewable energy.

Montserrat’s experience, along with the fact that several other countries in the region are looking to exploit their geothermal energy potential, underscores the wisdom of Barbados’ current emphasis on making a switch to renewable energy, making use primarily of the abundance of sunshine and also wind.

Even though global oil prices are currently trending downwards, it should not lull us into a state of complacency where we start to lose focus on the current drive towards alternative energy development. Drawing on the lessons of recent history, oil prices will inevitably go up again and if our heavy dependence remains, the impact on our economy will be just as destabilizing.

We are happy for the people of Montserrat who have gone through a lot in the last 20 years. The current optimism in the 39-square-mile island shows a determination to turn a negative into a positive. There are some applicable lessons for us here in Barbados where we have endured seven years of economic stagnation and tend too often to focus primarily on the negative.

Conquering adversity, in the final analysis, boils down to a matter of attitude and perspective. Perhaps if we start seeing the glass as half-full instead of half-empty, this new attitude and perspective could very well open our eyes to new development possibilities which, hitherto, may have eluded us or which we may have never imagined.

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