The proposal by Canadian investors to build a US $100 million liquified natural gas (LNG) fuelling station for ships and “plug-in” power generating system – reported on in the Tuesday and Wednesday newspapers – may sound a bit mindboggling at first but could make a lot of sense. LNG is said to be 10-20 per cent less polluting than fuel oil and cheaper, while International Maritime Organisation (IMO) rules ban vessels from using fuels with a sulphur content of more than 0.5 per cent unless equipped to clean the emissions.
Considering that St. Maarten is a prime cruise port as well as a growing cargo port, such a facility here would seem a good match. However, the effect on nature at the proposed Cay Bay location, including the planned breakwater, will have to be looked at carefully.
On the other hand, if local utilities provider GEBE were to switch to LNG, the chance of oil spills such as the one on Tuesday would probably be much smaller. Again, a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) appears to be key in this case.
The second and perhaps even more important issue is whether the country, especially with a one-pillar tourism economy, should basically place its energy needs in the hands of an outside private company rather than a local government-owned entity. After all, the dominant hospitality industry is highly dependent on service and that includes a stable electricity supply.
One would assume a company that transports LNG from the US mainland to Puerto Rico would be capable of ensuring such, but it is a significant step. The cost to consumers obviously remains a major consideration and although a rate said to be 33 per cent lower than the current one is guaranteed for five years, what happens afterwards is not clear.
However, new fixed prices for the same periods will be set during the first two decades. Besides, one can hardly predict what GEBE would be charging by then.
Just like the earlier offer to lease and basically take over the harbour, seeking qualified, expert and reliable third-party advice in cases of such magnitude is probably a prudent course of action.