But engineer optimistic about visionary plan

Electrical engineer and businessman Donald Baldeosingh is getting a trifle frustrated with the slow progress, as he sees it, being made with his Southern Caribbean Cable project.

This is a US$1.01 billion investment to take gas-generated surplus power in Trinidad and Tobago down to fellow Caricom members Guyana and Suriname in a dramatic initiative to reduce their current electricity costs (primarily Guyana, since its Dutch-speaking neighbour enjoys fairly reasonable power prices).

The project is reckoned to be 833MW beyond peak demand of 1,322MW, which exists thanks to the 720MW Trinidad Generation Unlimited plant at La Brea, built primarily to service the needs of the abandoned Alutrint aluminium smelter.

The selling of surplus power is intended to fund the undersea power cable that will connect Trinidad to Guyana as a first step and is estimated to cost around US$700 million.

A subsequent connection to Suriname will require US$300 million. The cable will incorporate a fibre-optic telecommunication capability, which could bring in additional revenue.

Like all visionary ideas, the prospect of Baldeosingh’s trans-Caribbean cable is taking some time to catch on with those who have the authority to help make it a reality, hence his current impatience over the matter.

The initial funding required — US$500,000 for technical assistance for completion of a pre-feasibility study — was to have been provided by an unnamed “state company,” which promised to release the funds more than a year ago but which had not done so as of the last week in April.

Baldeosingh is seriously considering tapping into so-called “crowdfunding,” in which thousands of small investors pledge funding for a project when one large venture-capital investor, bank or multinational institution is reluctant to do so.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government of Trinidad and Tobago is also being sought, since a “tangible expression of interest from the government” will, he believes, encourage “early-stage funders and business partners” to come forward and commit to the cable.

Agreements with “a Trinidad and Tobago power supplier,” MOUs with the governments of Guyana and Suriname and “expressions of interest from off-takers” will also have to follow.

But news has not been all negative, and there have been some positive developments, according to Baldeosingh.

First, “a large Caribbean conglomerate” has shown willingness to join with him as a “strategic investor.” (Baldeosingh had long ago brought Hardy Stevenson and Associates of Toronto into the picture because he wanted a party familiar with the Canadian experience in hydroelectricity, the second part of his vision of Caribbean electricity integration.)

Second, the minister of energy of “a geothermal-rich island” has invited Baldeosingh to talk about “the northward-bound leg of the Southern Caribbean cable.”

Third, the organisers of the Go Caribbean Expo, which will take place in New York at the end of September, have invited Baldeosingh to participate and “feature the project to early-stage investors.”

While Baldeosingh is naturally focussing his energies on the initial part of his project (the cable link to Trinidad/Guyana/Suriname and the supply of power derived from gas), the second part of his business plan is the more revolutionary.

This next stage will involve turning the system around and bringing power back to Trinidad and Tobago, then taking it north through Caricom states as a much cheaper alternative to the fuel oil or diesel-generated power with which they are now saddled.

The revolutionary aspect of this project is that this power will be renewable via hydroelectric plants in Suriname and Guyana.

This will free up some gas-generated power in Trinidad and Tobago and will be supplemented by other renewable sources — geothermal, wind and photovoltaics — as it passes through those northern Caricom states that are developing such facilities, all of which is in keeping with the goals of the Caricom Energy Policy (CEP), approved in March 2013.