Dominica and Geothermal Colonialism

BY MERRI CATHERINE

Dominica, also known as Nature Island, used to be called Wai’tu kubuli by the Indigenous Kalinago people pre-colonization and chattel slavery. It means “Tall is Her Body,” a sentiment true to her immense mountain ranges.

It is the only home to the endangered sisserou parrot, recently stolen without the consent of the people: a majority dispossessed Black people who are all the progeny of enslaved Africans. It is a beautiful land of many waters: rivers, stream, creeks, boiling lakes, and all the wildlife and earthen ecosystems that shape them.

Map of Dominica with topographic features. | Source: Medium


Utilizing this immense wealth of freshwater resources, it is no surprise that the World Bank and former U.S. President Bill Clinton are excited to donate to Dominica’s new geothermal company (Dominica Geothermal Development Company Ltd.” or DGDC), as geothermal plants make immense use of freshwater cooling. It also doesn’t hurt that Dominica has nine active volcanoes, which would produce most if not all of the heat available for geothermal plants’ use.

But it is important us Dominicans and fellow water and land protectors understand the dangers this technology brings with its development to our ecosystems as to avoid becoming even more dependent on First World countries for assistance  and so that we can continue working on our own resilience and independence. What lies in our future is an opportunity for land, water and people protectors to join together in preserving what is said to be the last place on Earth that Christopher Columbus would recognize if he could see it again.

The Neo-Colonial Economics of “Clean Energy”

In June 2017, the Government of New Zealand recruited a project manager who is now engaged with the DGDC. Funding for the project will come from various sources:

  • Government of Dominica: $40.5 million
  • Government of the UK: $30.0 million
  • Government of New Zealand: $2 million
  • SIDS DOCK: $2 million

The Government of Dominica is also expecting grant funding from the United Arab Emirates Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund, known as UAE-CREF. It is expected to be between $3 million and $5 million.

Here is the budget for fiscal years 2017–2018, which includes information on the DGDC.

Additional funds are being provided by the Clean Technology Fund, CTF, in the amount of $9 million. The CTF will also provide $2.5 million in the form of technical assistance for advancing the development of a large geothermal power plant, LGPP, for export of power to Guadeloupe and Martinique. This will render them dependent on us.

It is important to remember who Dominica is dependent on as well. All of these donations would be incredibly kind if they didn’t come at a price. Maintenance of these services as well as the service they will provide Dominicans could come at a cost of anything from taxes to repair fees, but most obvious and sure-fire of all: loss of land.

Once the plant has been commissioned, the DGDC will sell power to Dominica Electricity Services Limited, or DOMLEC, to be distributed throughout the country at (supposedly) a cheaper price than our diesel prices, at the cost of permanently endangering the future of Wai’tu kubuli herself.

Geothermal Power and Its Dangers

Map of Dominica’s active volcano sites. | Source: Medium


Geothermal plants differ in terms of the technology they use to convert the resource to electricity (direct steam, flash or binary) and the type of cooling technology they use (water-cooled and air-cooled). Environmental impacts will differ depending on the conversion and cooling technology used. Geothermal power plants can impact both water quality and consumption. Hot water pumped from underground reservoirs often contains high levels of sulfur, salt and other minerals.

The distinction between open- and closed-loop systems is important with respect to air emissions. In closed-loop systems, gases removed from the well are not exposed to the atmosphere and are injected back into the ground after giving up their heat, so air emissions are minimal. Open-loop systems emit hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane and boron. Hydrogen sulfide, which has a distinctive “rotten egg” smell, is the most common emission.

Once in the atmosphere, hydrogen sulfide changes into sulfur dioxide (SO2). This contributes to the formation of small acidic particulates that can be absorbed by the bloodstream and cause heart and lung disease. Sulfur dioxide also causes acid rain, which damages crops, forests, soils, acidified lakes and streams.

Some geothermal plants also produce small amounts of mercury emissions, which must be mitigated using mercury filter technology.

Hydrothermal plants are sited on geological “hotspots,” which tend to have higher levels of earthquake risk. There is evidence that hydrothermal plants can lead to an even greater earthquake frequency.

Enhanced geothermal systems (hot dry rock) can also increase the risk of small earthquakes. In this process, water is pumped at high pressures to fracture underground hot rock reservoirs similar to technology used in natural gas hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking.” When a geothermal system is sited near a heavily populated area, constant monitoring and transparent communication with local communities is necessary.

A diagram explaining the process known as “fracking.” | Source: Friends of the Earth


Water is also used by geothermal plants for cooling and reinjection. All U.S. geothermal power facilities use wet-recirculating technology with cooling towers. Depending on the cooling technology used, geothermal plants can require between 1,700 and 4,000 gallons of water per megawatt-hour. However, most geothermal plants can use either geothermal fluid or freshwater for cooling.

Most geothermal plants reinject water into the reservoir after it has been used to prevent contamination and land subsidence. In most cases, however, not all water removed from the reservoir is reinjected because some is lost as steam. In order to maintain a constant volume of water in the reservoir, outside water must be used. This, along with using freshwater to cool the plant, may contribute to loss of water in Dominica, interfering with our export of water out of (and therefore import of currency into) Dominica. In short, it will decrease our wealth as a nation.

Another danger is “land subsidence,” a phenomenon in which the land surface sinks, is sometimes caused by the removal of water from geothermal reservoirs. Most geothermal facilities address this risk by reinjecting wastewater back into geothermal reservoirs after the water’s heat has been captured, facilitating a cycle of resurfacing poisoned water from between the underground to the above-ground landscape.

Hydrothermal plants are sited on geological “hotspots,” which tend to have higher levels of earthquake risk. There is evidence that hydrothermal plants can lead to an even greater earthquake frequency. Switzerland attempted to do the same as Dominica, but the project failed after an earthquake occurred due to the construction.

This is becoming a classic attempt at further colonizing the lands, souls and health of a people who do not have much to lose other than a flourishing culture and the potential of great minds , both of which will never be worth losing. Do not let our land fall prey to money-hungry and greedy people.

To sum it up, Dominica faces multiple dangers with the use of geothermal energy:

  • Increased magnitude and frequency of earthquakes
  • Inducing volcanic eruption
  • Poisoning of Dominica’s waters
  • Toxifying Dominica’s air
  • Increased privatization of land, as opposed to communal ownership
  • Energy and resources taken out of the country while people who need it suffer

Here is some more information on the dangers of geothermal power, courtesy of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

It is important that we understand these dangers and organize our communities around water, air and land protection from corporate bosses who want nothing more than money and a place to vacation away from their ghettos. We can not let Dominica become more of a zoo for tourists or a piggy bank from which to squander money, any more than it has become.

The most troubling part of all this is the lack of consent the Labour Party has acquired from local people who are barely literate in the topic of geothermal power. This is another reason why this education on geothermal power is essential.

All of these dangers are apparently worth disaster capitalism, according to government officials and others, who are more concerned with further enriching themselves and further enslaving us with debt in the process — spiritually, intellectually and economically.

We must formulate a means to not only educate the masses of Dominica on the dangers ahead, but also to mobilize those who do not consent to foreseen dangers. We must then disrupt construction at any cost until we, as a unified peoples, determine the best way to continue forward.

For a consensual Dominica, we must ensure that every action taken by the governance is either asked of by the people or consulted with the people. For this to occur, we need increased political literacy as well as an increase in union forces and communal labor that does not seek government permission. We need organization to be genuinely grassroots, localized, person-to-person and communal.

An absolutely horizontal and shared aspect of people power where everyone is equal and everyone has something to offer. We need networks of community liberators willing to sacrifice their time, energy and resources to achieve public consciousness in the shadow of disaster capitalism. This disaster capitalism is marked by the exploitation of national crises to push through controversial policies while citizens are too emotionally and physically distracted by disasters or upheavals to mount an effective resistance.

We need to fight this as soon as possible.


Note: This article was originally published by Merri Catherine on her Medium on April 11, 2018.

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