By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamians were yesterday urged “not to lose sight” of the benefits Stellar Energy’s proposed waste-to-energy plant could deliver for them, a senior company executive saying the project presented this nation with “a golden opportunity” to lead the Caribbean.
Jean-Paul Michielsen, chief operating officer for the project that has become mired in political controversy, told Tribune Business that he and his fellow Stellar executives simply wanted “to make life easier for all Bahamians”.
Separating the company and project from the politically-charged row that has surrounded it since Stellar’s ‘Letter of Intent’ with the Government was revealed, Mr Michielsen estimated it would take between four-six months to conduct two critical feasibility studies.
Emphasising that Stellar was focusing on what it could control and living up to its obligations under the Letter of Intent, Mr Michielsen said the proposed plant’s total price tag was likely to be lower than the much-publicised $650 million estimate.
Shrugging off suggestions by the Government’s landfill management contractor, Renew Bahamas, that it would deny Stellar and its consultants the necessary access to the site to conduct their feasibility studies, Mr Michielsen described waste-to-energy as “a no brainer” for the Bahamas.
He revealed that Stellar ultimately planned for the plant/company, if it was constructed and operational, to be “completely owned by Bahamians”, as its principals had no interest in running it past the initial 25-year power purchase agreement. This would be achieved through an initial public offering (IPO).
And Mr Michielsen also confirmed that former FNM Cabinet Minister, and current Urban Renewal co-chair, Algernon Allen, had once done work for Stellar Energy, but this was in the past and not related to the current project proposal.
Mr Allen had previously denied acting as Stellar’s Bahamian attorney, when Tribune Business contacted him after seeing his law firm was so listed on the company’s website.
Calling on Bahamians to separate the merits of Stellar’s project proposal from the ‘Letter of Intent’ controversy, Mr Michielsen told Tribune Business: “Don’t let’s lose sight of the end result.
“The end result is going to be cheaper electricity that comes out of the waste sitting there right now. That’s the bottom line. We need new, cheaper energy.
“I sat in the dark for four hours last night because of BEC’s load shedding. We will have a plant designed so that it is environmentally friendly, and do what it says it will do - not one day a week but every day of the week.”
Dr Fabrizio Zanaboni, Stellar Energy’s chief executive, revealed to Tribune Business last November that the plant proposed to sell the electricity it generated to BEC at a price of around $0.20 per kilowatt hour (KWh) - around 50 per cent less than the Corporation’s current power costs.
Mr Michielsen, meanwhile, defended the company’s projection that its plasma technology could generate 75 Mega Watts (MW) of power per day from the New Providence landfill’s waste streams.
Several observers, including former environment minister Phenton Neymour, and Waste Not’s Ginny McKinney, have argued that the landfill’s existing waste streams could generate a maximum 20-40 MW per day.
But Mr Michielsen said Stellar’s first feasibility study, Front End Engineering Design (FEED) 1, conducted by its APP Tectronics partner, had proven the 75 MW potential.
“I hear people say you can’t do 75 MW,” he added. “As a matter of fact, we can do 105 MW gross. The 75 MW is a net figure. We know for a fact we can get 75 MW out of the mix that is sitting there.
“Let’s control it, use that and get something out of it. It’s a no brainer to me. We’re trying to make life easier for all Bahamians.”
Explaining that the plant could be “scaled up” or down, Mr Michielsen said every engine could produce 20 MW net, while also having the ability to use other fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), crude oil and Bunker C.
Stellar Energy is now moving to conduct its FEED 2 and 3 feasibility studies, which will happen “concurrently”.
Mr Michielsen said FEED 2 would “dig a little deeper” into the landfill’s waste streams via larger sample studies, plus go into geotechnical areas and examine how the proposed plant could tie-in to BEC substations and existing grid.
He added that it would also determine the lay-out of the plant and its technical components, including feeds and conveyor belts.
Meanwhile, FEED 3 will explore the design of Stellar’s plasma technology waste-to-energy plant and determine procurement - which companies parts and materials will be ordered from, plus their pricing.
“It’s going to take four to six months to get those studies done. Best case scenario is four-and-a-half months; worst case scenario is six-and-a-half months,” Mr Michielsen told Tribune Business.
Renew Bahamas, which has an existing contract with the Government to manage the New Providence landfill, earlier this week suggested that it would deny Stellar the access it needs to conduct its feasibility studies.
Dismissing any concerns, Mr Michielsen said the Government’s continued landfill ownership would remove any obstacles, adding that Renew Bahamas personnel had co-operated with Stellar in giving access for its FEED 1 study.
Pledging that Stellar would hire Bahamians if its proposal came to fruition, Mr Michielsen estimated that the waste-to-energy plant would create 2,000 construction jobs and at least 400 full-time staff.
“Not every Bahamian graduate coming out of college wants to work at Atlantis,” he added, pointing to the technology-based career diversification that Stellar promises.
Mr Michielsen, though, reiterated that Stellar Energy did not have a final agreement with the Government to proceed with the project, with much depending on the feasibility study results.
Aiming to dispel the notion held by many Bahamians that the project was a ‘done deal’, Mr Michielsen told Tribune Business: “As it stands now, people need to understand; we don’t have a contract, we don’t have a deal.
“The Deputy Prime Minister is absolutely correct. We can’t talk about a deal until we have the results of the FEED studies.”
Clarifying Mr Allen’s links with Stellar, Mr Michielsen said: “Algernon Allen, at a point in time, did some work for Stellar Energy, but nothing related to this project.
“His name was on the web page and I know Mr Allen, but he’s not involved in this project in any way, shape or form.”
Expressing optimism that Stellar’s project would not be derailed by the ongoing political controversy, Mr Michielsen said: “You should worry about the things you can control.
“As a business, we don’t control the political landscape or what is being said in the media. The only thing we can do is give this government all the information required to make an informed decision.”
Disclosing that “huge interest” from potential investors and financiers in the Stellar project had not been impacted, Mr Michielsen said the company was not just confining itself to the Bahamas, as it was exploring waste-to-energy opportunities in Haiti, the Cayman islands and, possibly, Turks & Caicos.
“I personally feel it will be a real shame if the Bahamas is left behind on this, as we have a golden opportunity to showcase something nobody else in the region has,” Mr Michielsen told Tribune Business.
“The Bahamas, in so many ways, has been at the forefront of things in the region. I think this plant could be another component in this crown called the Bahamas. But let’s make sure we do the right thing.
“To us, our focus remains the same: Bringing a working waste-to-energy plant to the country. That’s our only focus, and if we can help this come to that, then great.”