Dwyer Astaphan

Greetings:

I’m Dwyer Astaphan in St.Kitts with this week’s commentary.

Some weeks ago, I raised the matter of the Solar Energy Plant that is proposed for Needsmust, close to the present Government-owned Power Plant. The Solar Plant is to be owned and operated by a Swiss Company named Leclanché.

In relation to this project, we were told as follows:

(i) that the solar plant would be located on about 102 acres of land to be leased to Leclanché  by the Government;

(ii) that Leclanché  would operate the project for 20 years with an option for a 5-year extension;

(iii) that the plant’s capacity would be about 36 megawatts;

(iv) that an Environmental Impact Assessment and a Geotechnical Analysis had been done in 2019;

(v) that Leclenché  would store the electricity generated  (Leclanché  is really a storage company) and sell electricity to the Government, and the Government would, in turn, sell it to you and me; and

(vi) that the cost of the project was US$70 million, but there would be no cost to the Government.

We were further told that the full capitalization of the project, in a combination of debt and equity, would be provided by Leclanché  and that it would cover the project’s capital costs and financing.

We were also told by Leclenché  that they don’t disclose their costs or operating margins, which means that the taxpayers, the citizens and residents, the voters of this country must not know how much Leclanché is making out of St.Kitts- although, however, we do know that it is expected to be a lot according to what Leclanché’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Anil Srivastava says. 

Can you imagine the audacity of any company, worse so a foreign company, being invited with open arms to be part of our utility industry, an industry which, in the public interest, especially as a monopoly, needs to be regulated, and telling us that we have no business in their costs or margins. Even worse so yet, a company which needs St.Kitts to survive! We don’t need them; they need us.

Arrogance and audacity at its colonialist, imperialist worst!

We, as the general public, were not given a breakdown of the US$70 million cost valuation for the project. Research indicates that building out a solar energy plant of this scale could cost about US$1 million per megawatt, so, using that yardstick,  a 36-megawatt project would cost about US$36 million, which is a lot less than US$70 million. In fact, it’s just over half of US$70 million. So we must be given a breakdown of the costs. How did it get to US$70 million?

I’m not accusing, just asking.

And I’ll come back to that US$70 million a bit later in this commentary.

We were also not told what was in the Environmental Impact Assessment or in the Geotechnical Analysis. Don’t we have the right to know? But we have fallen asleep to the issues that matter, while we allow ourselves to be distracted from these life issues by less important things, mentally and physically managed and manipulated as we are.

We were also not told how much rent Leclanché would pay for the 102 acres.

Further, we were not told, that after 20-25 years, much of the plant would have to be replaced, although a little research would reveal that to us. So after, say, 25 years, the deal is over, Leclanché walk away with their pockets filled with profits made from us, and we have to start all over again with no money in our hands.

It’s like paying rent. After 25 years, you walk away, owning nothing.

We were also not told what concessions Leclanché will be getting in addition to what may be a very gentle land rental. So for all we know, Leclanché may be in a position of great comfort and assurance that the high profits that they are predicting for the St.Kitts project will be tax free.

So we are giving these people from Switzerland and Canada and elsewhere the opportunity to make big profits out of us, as our Government puts poor SKELEC in as the middleman, and so jack up costs to us more than we should be paying.  We are giving them a free pass to continue the colonial game plan which is to control the resources of our homeland.

I wonder what Robert Bradshaw, or Marcus Garvey, or Bob Marley or Washington Archibald would say about this.

What is the Chamber of Industry & Commerce saying? Don’t they have an opinion? Wouldn’t their members be keen to invest in this project, and collect annual dividends? What about the other stakeholders?  What’s happening here, has the cat got their tongues?

Leclenché are looking to us, the people of little St.Kitts to take them out of the red. And while they turn from ‘debt red’ to ‘dollar green’ off our backs, we stay stuck on amber, like the street lights which are cropping up in town just hundreds of yards away from each other. We are kept out of the board room. We are kept away from receiving dividends from a solar energy enterprise on our land, soaking up the rays of our sun.

For me it’s an ugly picture, and if allowed to stand, it will be etched forever in history as a blemish on those who govern today and on those of us who choose to remain silent about it.

I must say that I’ve been listening to SKELEC workers; and all who have spoken with me have said that they are against this move, and that they want the business to be locally owned with them and other citizens and residents of St.Kitts & Nevis being able to buy shares in it. I’ve gotten similar feedback from other public sector employees. And also from private sector workers. And also from some business owners. But people are afraid of being victimized.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If this deal goes through, the project needs to be nationalized, then corporatized for the people of this country to own shares in it along with the Government. And that will happen, one way or the other. It has to! Because this is wrong!

Isn’t it odd that while our people advocate and fight for reparation from Europe, our decision makers are busy bailing out business people from the same Europe from where reparation is demanded, at our expense.

History in reverse!

This is not energy independence for our people, Mr. Prime Minister. And it is certainly no partnership, Mr. Srivastava.

Pretty soon, folks will need to consider demanding reparation from our leaders as well, because it’s not Leclenché making this decision that will block and deprive us for at least the next 20-25 years; it’s our leaders.

Come to think about it, ultimately, it’s not our leaders: It’s us! If we allow it, we are to blame. Those of us who are around 20-25 years from now, how will you justify your lack of action to your children and grandchildren?

Meanwhile, why were we not told, even before Leclanché came into the picture, that the Government was contemplating turning to renewable energy ( which is a good thing), and why were we not given the opportunity, as citizens-human, corporate and institutional- to invest in this new source of energy, which, after all, is a vital national security asset on which the stability and sustainability of our economy and society depend?

Now some research into Leclanché shows that in 2015, they incurred an operating loss of about US$38 million; in 2016, they lost about US$40 million; in 2017, they lost about US$41 million; in 2018, they lost about US$55 million; and in 2019, they lost about US$89 million. So for five straight years they operated in the red, below the line, incurring heavy losses, totalling about US$263 million, and over US$300 million since 2012.That’s just about the entire budget of the Government of this Federation. And more debt than the national debt of this country.

In 2019, Leclanché’s cash reserve was about US$1.6 million, which is less cash than some of you have in your private bank accounts.

So why did the Government bypass the people of this country, and our institutions, and open the colonial door to entrepreneurs from Switzerland and Mississauga, Ontario, Canada? And as if that’s not enough cause for concern, did our Government do its research before signing an agreement with Leclanché?

So let’s now deal with the US$70 million. Apart from the need for this sum to be broken down and explained, we are now being told that Leclenché have received funding for several matters, one of which is the St.Kitts Solar Plant.

One of the problems with this funding is that while we are told that the project is a US$70 million project, the funding that Leclenché is getting is only US$63 million in total, and only some of that is to be allocated to the St.Kitts project. So suppose, for example, US$40 million is for the St.Kitts project, where what appears to be a relatively impecunious Leclanché. get the remaining US$30 million to complete the project?

We already see projects undertaken since 2015 that have had cost overruns and some haven’t even been completed. I don’t need to name them. You all know them. And we’ve been given no explanations as to the over runs and failure to complete on schedule. So it is difficult to imagine any further explanations being forthcoming on this Solar project.

This means that it is you, the people, who have to use your power to get the information that you need so that you can influence the decisions taken by your leaders.

A good example of voter and consumer power is being played out in the USA right now. In some States, officials are pushing to make it harder for people to vote.

So what are people doing? They are telling the corporations such as Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, IBM, etc., massive corporations and not-so-massive ones, that if the corporations do not take a stand against this move by government officials to suppress voting, the voters will boycott those corporations.

And guess what is happening. The corporations are responding to the voters and speaking out against the actions of these government officials. The corporations don’t want to lose business.

That is real pushback, and it is noble and correct action that’s being taken by the voters and consumers.

Do we have the backbone to use our power, as the people of this country, to guide the governance of our affairs in the right direction insofar as our collective interests are concerned? Or are we going to continue being weak hearts, grumblers and mumblers?

This move to solar power is the right move. But it is being done the wrong way. It is going against the grain of history. It is feeding and empowering those from whom reparations are being sought, and marginalizing and depriving those who seek and deserve reparations, compliments of an Administration that is supposed to defend, protect and promote the best interests of the victims, not the perpetrators.

In short, this deal is bad for you, but good for Leclanché.