Vanuatu Community Told, Geothermal Energy Risks Minimal

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Meeting in Takara about planned thermal energy project reassuring

By Bob Makin

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, April 1, 2014) – The dangers associated with the planned thermal source of energy at Takara are not great.

Over 100 people, many of whom were women, from the region and Emau island, learned of the negligible danger posed by testing of this source of energy, and the worst a power station could mean, at a public meeting at Takara on Saturday.

Chiefs of the area hosted the meeting to move the important development further on, from the land ownership dispute stage to that of discussing the advantages and disadvantages of a geothermal project for Efate's electricity at Takara.

There were - and still are - many questions, but the gathering got answers to many worries. The meeting was effectively the launch of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which is the very next step.

Brian Phillips of the Geothermal Task Force was present and Albert Williams, Head of the Environment Department, along with Tim Hewatt, Vanuatu representative, and Geoff Ward, the CEO, of Geodynamics Limited.

There is no likelihood of any sort of volcanic disturbance, eruption or lava flow, or any explosion from the energy source. Indeed, hot saline water is the only thing to emerge from the source, and then it goes back down into the ground from which it came. This seemed to be the primary concern, that the energy could be harmful.

Another major fear was the size of the area of land required for the testing, drilling and for the ultimate construction of power plant facilities. The ultimate power station, the meeting learned from the Geodynamics pair, if all the tests prove the location at Takara as ideal, will still only be small in size, geothermal energy not needing the huge space of the carbon-hungry kinds of electricity generation such as we presently have at Tagabe. And pipes of not huge diameter can deliver the hot water between the source and factory quite easily.

For Albert Williams and Geothermal Task Force leader Brian Phillips, the main purpose of the meeting was to hear all the concerns the community, land owners and residents, might raise. Williams is putting Donna Kalfatak, Efatese scientist, at the disposal of the people of Takara to hear and evaluate any further concerns as the EIA goes ahead. There is limited time for this, but all environmental questions must be raised.

The meeting learned of the sorts of drill-holes needing to be bored for testing and then the means by which sources of geothermal power will be accessed. Drilling will possibly go down to 2,000 metres.

There was discontent expressed by some, especially as regards the signatories to the agreement which allows the environmental and social impact study to proceed. Custom ownership thereby raised its possibly disrupting character.

The EIA, to be conducted by professionals in a company called SLR, will be concerned with existing marine and land-based life - the animals and plants including natongtong - and the areas of garden land used by people for their livelihoods. Already there has been considerable study undertaken, and specialised mapping, and this will increase with the EIA, to which the government is committed.

Then it is hoped by those at Saturday's meeting that the entire population, custom owners and non, will come back to approve the EIA to enable work to begin. It can only win with the approval of the community.

Saturday's meeting at Takara was a precursor of the kind that can now be expected under the new lands legislation: the entire community was invited to be present. There was a large presence of women (nearly a quarter of the gathering). Those who disagreed with aspects of the project were present along with those who want it to proceed. Comments were invited from everyone. It was indeed a community consultation, and no ministers or politicians were present.

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