Wind Power for the People and Fossil Fuel for Gold Mines and Hospitals

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 1st, 2013

Week in Review

Energy firm RWE just backed out of a £4 billion ($6.6 billion) offshore wind farm.  The Atlantic Array project in the Bristol Channel.  Because of higher than expected costs.  And lower than expected government subsidies.  Meanwhile a new power plant was delivered in the Dominican Republic this year.  A nation that shares an island with Haiti surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.  With a lot of sea wind to spin wind turbines.  Just as they filled the sails of the colonial powers’ ships centuries ago.  But they didn’t build a wind farm (see Quisqueya I & II, Dominican Republic posted on Wärtsilä).

Sometimes, one plus one does not equal two. The 25,000 inhabitants of Quisqueya, a small town close to San Pedro de Macorís, in the Dominican Republic, know so.

In September 2011, Barrick Gold Corporation acquired a majority share in a soon-to-be-opened gold mine, some 100 kilometres away from the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo. As soon as the mining company understood the needs of their new power-hungry mine, they decided to place an order for a state-of-the-art Wärtsilä power plant. The way in which Barrick, its host country and Wärtsilä would cooperate for the greater good came to exceed the initial expectations of any of the three involved parties and strike gold in an unforeseen way.

The Quisqueya project is a rare combination of two power plants. Due to clever project design it satisfies not only the gold mine’s power needs, but also those of the local population, who often deals with blackouts and an unstable power grid. The dual function came to be as the largest utility in the country, EGE Haina, decided to jump on the boat of efficient and  reliable power generation, turning the initial project to a synergetic effort where the total value exceeds the sum of its parts.

While Quisqueya I is owned and used by Barrick Gold, its twin sister Quisqueya II is run by EGE Haina. Although ordered by different parties, the plants are being built on the same site and together form the largest power plant complex in the world ever delivered by Wärtsilä at the time of the order, setting a new standard for the 21st century power plants. As an outsider, you cannot clearly draw a line between the power supplied to the mine and that supplied to the local community, nor between the corporate profit and the social one. Quisqueya I & II is a beautiful example of how a sensible and responsible utilization of natural resources can directly improve a community’s way of life.

Both Quisqueya plants will feature Wärtsilä Flexicycle™ combined cycle technology and operate on 12 Wärtsilä 50DF dual-fuel engines each. The primary fuel is to be natural gas with liquid fuel as back-up, and the combined output from the two plants will be 430 MW. Wärtsilä’s scope of supply for the Quisqueya power plant includes full engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC). The power plant will have a net efficiencyof 48 %, which is an astonishingly high figure in tropical conditions, with soaring humidity and temperatures above 35°C.

Lucky are the people living near this power-hungry gold mine.  Because it gets top of the line electric power.  That furnished by fossil fuels.  Which can burn no matter what the winds are doing.  Keeping this gold mine in operation.  And giving the people around it reliable electric power.  And if the winds stop blowing these people will still have their power.  And if a hurricane blows through it may down some power lines.  Which can be replaced to restore electric power.  Whereas if a hurricane takes out an offshore wind farm power will be out a lot longer.  Either until they rebuild those very expensive wind turbines (probably requiring huge green tariffs to cover the costs of building this wind farm twice).  Or until they build a new power plant that uses a fossil fuel.

Interesting when a power plant is to power a million homes like the Atlantic Array project in the Bristol Channel a government looks to spend $6.6 billion for unreliable power.  But when a power plant is furnishing something that produces revenue and economic output they don’t build a wind farm power plant.  No, when they need to count on that electric power to be there they turn to fossil fuels.  For the same reason hospitals don’t put wind turbines on their roof for backup electric power during a blackout.  They use backup generators that burn a fossil fuel.  Because they need to count on that electric power to be there.

Fossil fuel is reliable.  While wind power is not.  Which is why governments use fossil fuels for gold mines and hospitals.  And wind power for the people.  Because governments can screw the people to meet silly green power targets with little blowback.  Because, hey, it’s for the environment.

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