Energy and development

It might seem strange to most of us, but the idea of “progress” as humans moving to some teleologically determined end-state is actually quite a modern idea, arising as it did during the “European Enlightenment”. But aside from its philosophical foundations, what is quite observable (and measurable) from our present position is the correlation between “progress” and “energy consumption”. This, of course, is due to the Industrial Revolution, which started in the late 18th century and has transformed human productivity. Initially, everyone used wood to fuel that Revolution, but coal took over in the 19th century, to be soon overtaken by petroleum. But whatever is the source, one can get a very good idea of living standards in any country by the amount of energy it consumes. In 2019, when the US still maintained its almost century-old rank as the “most developed” nation, with 4% of the world’s population, it used 17% of the world’s energy.
This demand for energy in the thrust for development and progress is not going to change soon. While Gandhi’s encouragement to settle mankind’s differences peacefully might have retained traction in the modern world, his position on villages’ non-industrial development has fallen on barren soil. So, as we in Guyana at long last have obtained the wherewithal to notch up our developmental trajectory towards takeoff in our own Industrial Revolution – ironically, through the serendipitous presence of petroleum and natural gas off our shores – we have to accept that the threshold issue will be the supply of adequate energy. While our constant “blackouts” since the 1970s might seem more of an annoyance than anything else, it symbolises our position on the developmental sweepstakes. We have been unable to supply electricity, the most fungible method of supplying energy, not only to our houses to power the devices that make our lives comfortable, but to our factories to manufacture goods for our own use and export.
Against this background, we, the citizens of this country, must appreciate the PPP Government’s decision to place energy supply right up there with roads and bridges in the utilisation of the funds from our Natural Resource Fund – at this time, holding all of our oil revenues since the beginning of its production in 2019. Amaila Falls Hydroelectric Project (AFHEP), which had to be abandoned in 2013 by the Contractor Sithe Global because the then Opposition APNU/AFC announced they would not support it if they were to obtain political office, is now back on stream. The logistics of providing its projected 165MW of electricity to GPL via a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is being finalised. Power will be supplied to homes and businesses at US7.7cents/kwh, one-quarter its present rate. The Prime Minister, in charge of this sector, has also announced that there is a second hydroelectric project of the same scale on the cards.
A PPA is also being negotiated with GPL for a wind farm at Hope Beach, which will finally supply power from this source to the National Grid. Solar energy farms have already been launched at Mabaruma, and those will be multiplied exponentially across the hinterland communities. All of this “green energy” would complement the 250MW generating power plant at the Wales Development Authority (WDA), which will be fuelled by natural gas supplied by the Exxon consortium from the Stabroek Block via its “gas-to-shore” project. Among the various fossil fuels, coal is the dirtiest, followed by heavy oil. We do not use coal, and heavy oil will be phased out for natural gas, which is the least polluting.
The WDA is very critical, in that it would also be the catalyst for our transformation into a manufacturing powerhouse through the use of the natural gas as a feeder stock for the production of urea (critical for our agricultural expansion), methanol, and even synthetic proteins. The cheaper electricity should also encourage the expansion and establishment of other manufacturing concerns. Those naysayers in the Opposition who push instant gratification are anti-national.