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Tiny dual-island nation St. Kitts & Nevis has reached a key juncture in a long-running project that will shape its tourism future. Hidden beneath the picturesque beaches, rainforests, foothills and rocky cliffs of Nevis, the smaller of the two Caribbean islands, is a “volcanic garden” in the words of Mark Brantley, St. Kitts & Nevis’ minister of foreign affairs and aviation.
The “garden” is a massive reserve of geothermal energy, the same natural phenomenon responsible for Nevis’ famed hot springs, long favored by experienced, upscale travelers. The government is now embarking on a multi-million dollar program to tap into the reserve and unleash what may eventually become the country’s greatest natural resource.
Brantley, who previously served as deputy premier and tourism minister for St. Kitts and Nevis and now is Nevis’ tourism minister in addition to his other duties, has been a key figure behind a decade-long effort to construct a geothermal power plant on Nevis. His efforts bore fruit in January 2014, when the country contracted with Nevis Renewable Energy International (NREI) to build a geothermal power plant and injection and production wells on government land leased from the Nevis Island Administration.
A St. Kitts and Nevis native who’s also lived in the U.K. and U.S., Brantley braved the relative chill of New York City this month as I met with him over lunch in Manhattan restaurant. There he revealed that by December 2017, Nevis’ geothermal facility will produce 10 megawatts of power daily, equaling Nevis’s peak demand use and establishing the tiny island as “the greenest place on planet Earth.”
Beginning that month, all commercial and residential power will be supplied through non fossil fuel sources, Brantley said. Construction of the plant is expected to begin in May and a second phase of the project will boost the facility’s output to 150 megawatts, enabling the plant to fully service St. Kitts and export power to nearby Caribbean islands. “You have individual hotels that can say that, but no entire country,” Brantley observed.
Nevis’ geothermal reservoir is in fact thought to be capable of producing up a year-around supply of 500 megawatts. St. Kitts & Nevis currently imports 4.2 million gallons of diesel fuel annually at a cost of $12 million. Once up and running, the new facility is expected to lead to a 30 percent reduction in energy costs.
“One of the major problems in the Caribbean is the cost of electricity,” said Bantley. “You take the Four Seasons St. Kitts and Nevis, or any large hotel, any major property – the electricity costs are huge. This overnight wipes out 60 percent of that cost.”
The savings will help operators predict and manage energy supply and ensure price stability, important considerations for hospitality investors comparing individual Caribbean destinations, said Brantley.
Full geothermal production will also place Nevis in the position of regional power supplier. “We have the potential to generate enough energy not only for our needs but to become a provider to St. Barts, Antigua, St. Maarten, Saba, and Statia, all within a 50-mile radius of our country,” he said.
St. Kitts and Nevis’s environmentally responsible practices will also resonate with travelers to the country, said Brantley. “Nevis is not space-available. It appeals to a particular discerning traveler. We feel that what we are doing with regards to the environment is going to appeal to the guest who spends $5,000 a night for a villa,” he said. “That guest is the model of someone who is environmentally engaged and aware.
“Those who want the nightclubs and casinos, there are places for that, but that’s not Nevis,” continued Brantley. “Our model has always been the discerning traveler. I like to say that we don’t accommodate tourists, we accommodate travelers.” Energy independence will help the country maintain its status as “a unique place that is one with nature,” he said.
“Other destinations have changed what they were with concrete. We are developing, but not in a way that is detrimental to the island,” said Brantley. “We are offering a solution and a sustainability that cannot be matched not only by any destination in the region, but worldwide.”
While geothermal energy is now positioned to provide the county with a second major revenue stream, St. Kitts & Nevis remains a tourism-reliant country, Brantley said. “Our economy is dependent on tourism, at least by 70 percent. For us it’s a way of life. It’s how we keep our schools open, how we keep our hospitals open, it’s how we pave our roads.”
Indeed while no mega-resorts are planned for St. Kitts & Nevis, several tourism developments are on tap for 2016. The plans include construction of a second cruise ship pier at St. Kitts’ Port Zante facility for the 2016 season. A Park Hyatt hotel is scheduled to open in this year and a Koi Resorts property is also reportedly in development. In 2015 Kittitian Hill, a collection of upscale guest houses set located on a 400-acre organic farm, opened on St. Kitts’ north coast.
While the new developments will expand the country’s hotel and cruise guest capacity, they are not expected to alter the destination’s intimate, upscale and decidedly small-scale character.
Among the 28 destinations tracked by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), only Montserrat and St. Vincent and the Grenadines recorded fewer land-based visitors than St. Kitts and Nevis’ 104,730 in 2014.
On the other hand, geothermal energy promises to change the nation forever. “It means we have a revenue stream we didn’t have before,” said Brantley.
“Geothermal is transformative and will change our way of doing business on our islands. It also allows us to protect what we have because we are not subject to the same pressures that we see with other islands with large chains and cruise ships coming in,” he said. “It provides us with a new economic framework, and shows that a small Caribbean island can become a model for sustainable development.”