By Sam Bojarski
More than 2 million people live in Haiti’s three northern departments. However, they have access to just 33 megawatts (MW) of installed electricity capacity. To put this into perspective Jacques Bingue said a mid-sized city like Pittsburgh, in the highly developed United States, needs about 800 MW.
Through Group Citadelle, Bingue and other members of the Haitian diaspora are working to bring an industrial park to Terrier-Rouge, near the Bay of Fort Liberte in Haiti’s Nord-Est department. Plans for their Phaeton Industrial Park site include a 155-MW coal-fired power plant to electrify the entire “Great North.” A separate plant will manufacture 300,000 tons of charcoal briquette per year, providing an alternative to wood-based cooking fuels.
According to a report on the industrial park published by Innovative Energy Solution (IES), an energy technology development company Bingue founded in 2003, 90 percent of Haitians depend on charcoal and firewood for cooking. But over time, this demand has contributed to deforestation.
“The country cannot retain its forest cover due to the charcoal problem,” Terrier-Rouge Mayor Nadege Francois said through a translator.
Group Citadelle, an organization founded by Haitian Americans that seeks to implement feasible energy policies in Haiti characterized by reliable, inexpensive electricity, shared a summary on the industrial park project. The summary said that Haiti’s reliance on “expensive diesel” has resulted in high electricity generation costs of 35 cents per kilowatt hour. Recognizing both the expense and short supply of energy in Haiti, members of the advocacy group Haiti AHEAD formed Group Citadelle to provide market-based solutions, said Bingue, who holds a PhD in mechanical engineering.
Economist Enomy Germain, who works as a professor at the Center for Planning and Applied Economics in Port-au-Prince, said only 30 percent of Haiti’s population has formal access to electricity.
“It is difficult for the government to provide electricity to the population because the energy sector is not organized. It is not organized because private sector actors block any attempt at reform,” said Germain.
Private sector organizations sell energy to the state for distribution. According to a report on Haiti’s electricity sector published by Boston University, most power sold by EDH, Haiti’s public electrical utility, is produced by independent power producers (IPPs), including companies like Sogener, E-Power and Haytrac.
Residents do not have acceptable purchasing power, said Germain, and face costs that are over 50 percent greater than the neighboring Dominican Republic. This “blocks business creation in Haiti given that energy is among the highest costs for businesses,” he said.
Francois said the Phaeton Industrial Park, which will be run as a nonprofit managed by Group Citadelle and a recently formed electrical cooperative called COSOPENORD, has the potential to bring business to Haiti and reduce unemployment.
It’s not the first industrial park in the area that was promoted with these goals. The Caracol Industrial Park, with its 10 MW power plant, sits several miles west of Terrier Rouge. The US-supported park, which began operating in 2012, also features a clothing factory run by the South Korean apparel company Sae-A Trading. But the heavy fuel oil it uses, while less expensive than diesel, costs 10 times more per million British thermal units (BTU) than coal.
There are four other power plants in the Great North, including a 15 MW plant in Cap-Haitien. All of these plants are small, Bingue said, which drives up electricity costs and prevents economies of scale.
“There’s 33 total megawatts of capacity for 2 million people and it’s broken down into five plants. The biggest plant is 15 megawatts,” said Bingue.
Group Citadelle’s proposal
Initially, Group Citadelle plans to install a 55 MW coal plant at the industrial park site, “and then later on transition to a more permanent power plant that will give us about 100 megawatts for a total of 155 megawatts,” said Dr. Charles Stuppard, a Group Citadelle member.
The transition to 155 MW would occur over the course of three years. In addition to homes and businesses, this capacity will power the production of charcoal briquettes, similar to those used for grilling, Bingue said.
“If you mix high-quality coal with agricultural biomass, you can produce a briquette that is superior to the charcoal that they’re using now,” he added.
Bingue also noted that, in contrast with the industrial park itself, the briquette plant will operate as a private venture owned exclusively by Group Citadelle.
Stuppard said Group Citadelle intends to sell briquettes for eight U.S. dollars per 50 kilogram bag, adding that the organization will prioritize affordability and sustainability over profit. Briquettes made with the new formula would cost less than charcoal.
“We hope to sell about $150 million tons of briquettes a year. We are planning on producing about 300,000 tons a year. We will be able to reduce the price from over $650 a ton to $500,” Bingue said.
From 2015 to 2018, as Group Citadelle evaluated sites for the industrial park, its leaders sought a location with a port that could receive coal shipments. The ideal location also needed access to a transportation network for distributing briquettes throughout Haiti, according to Bingue.
In October 2018, Group Citadelle and Terrier-Rouge signed a joint development agreement for the park. To fuel the power plant and manufacture the briquettes, Group Citadelle plans to use coal mined in eastern Kentucky. The biomass for the proprietary briquette formula will come from inside Haiti.
Construction of the park, Bingue added, will cost an estimated $40 to $50 million. But the project has received interest from financiers, including the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).
They will help “in terms of planning, providing technical assistance, providing funds, whether it’s grants (or) loans, so we’re looking at the funding mostly coming from these organizations,” Stuppard said.
Although they are in discussions with an American engineering firm, Group Citadelle will mostly hire local contractors to help with construction. In addition to the briquette plant, more employment opportunities may follow, once the park develops. The organization’s members have already spoken to another group that wants to build a sugar mill in the area, according to Bingue.
The final obstacle
“At the present time, the Government of Haiti (GOH) is blocking the electricity project,” Bingue said in an email.
President Jovenel Moise has introduced his own ideas for expanding electricity. In the summer of 2017, he promised to provide the entire country with 24-7 access to electricity within two years. With Haiti’s current electricity delivery meeting just one-third of the country’s needs, Moise spoke about building a 600-kilometer, interconnected electricity grid, within the framework of a public-private partnership. Less than a year later, Taiwan granted Haiti a $150 million loan to help build this grid.
In addition to rehabilitating the national power grid, the plan also involves building microgrids to decentralize Haiti’s electricity sector and supply power to rural areas. Moise told Forbes Magazine that the microgrids will use renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.
Other developing nations have sought to use renewables as well. PV Magazine has reported that solar power will account for 12 percent of new capacity additions in sub-Saharan Africa over the next two years. Coal, notably, is predicted to account for 13 percent.
According to Randall Wood, senior manager of energy projects at RTI International, a nonprofit research institution focused on human development, solar power is now cheaper than any form of thermal energy, including natural gas. Panels can be used on anything from a single home or mini-grid for a small community, to a grid-scale system of 30 MW or more, he said. But things become more complicated when factoring in batteries.
“Effective solar solutions typically require battery support to store the energy generated during daylight hours or require tying into the national utility. Batteries remain expensive, though improvements to battery chemistry and technology mean the cost is coming down with time,” said Wood.
Last year, to show the Haitian government that the industrial park has political backing, Group Citadelle helped Francois and nine other mayors form an electricity cooperative, according to Francois.
“Recognizing that the constitution gives most economic development power to the local governments, we decided to work with local governments to avoid the gridlocks in Port-au-Prince,” said Bingue.
The cooperative will help distribute power throughout the northern regions of Haiti. It would own the distribution system, including meters and transmission lines, Bingue also said.
“The transmission lines, that will be an investment, and we’ve already started talking to IADB about that. The problem is that the Haitian government doesn’t want to give control over the lines, the existing lines,” he added.
Group Citadelle needs the Haitian government to take other actions, which its members explained. Ships transporting coal must have a license to dock in the Bay of Fort Liberte. The electricity cooperative would also require assistance applying for loans from multilateral organizations.
“The electricity project is in the late planning stages of development, where we need the GOH to pass the ownership of the distribution lines to the local governments,” Bingue said.
When it comes to installing electricity infrastructure, meters are necessary to collect payment from customers, said Wood. The system managed by the COSOPENORD cooperative would utilize pre-paid meters, where people purchase a set amount of electricity each month before using it, according to Bingue.
But the challenge with deploying any infrastructure is having a means to recoup the costs of the initial investment.
“Prepaid meters allow you to quantify and charge for consumption of energy, but do not themselves make an investment financially sound. It becomes more worthwhile when installation of that same equipment allows you to provide energy to a small industry/commerce, or when the aggregate of all consumers served lead to revenue that allows you to recoup the cost of that infrastructure,” said Wood in an email.
With an installed capacity of at least 55 MW and the use of a relatively cheap fuel source like coal, Bingue said that more people in northern Haiti will be able to afford electricity. However, he acknowledged that Haiti is a very poor country, and electricity would remain financially out of reach for some.
Rene Jean-Jumeau of the nonprofit Haitian Institute for Energy cited international pressures, related to the struggle against climate change, as a reason for the government’s reluctance to use coal thus far. But Bingue stressed that Haiti’s greenhouse gas emissions would be miniscule compared to larger countries that also burn fossil fuels.
Those with knowledge of the industrial park cited several benefits. If Group Citadelle can achieve its 155 MW goal, it could reduce electricity costs in the Great North to an estimated 15 cents per kilowatt hour, according to Stuppard.
The industrial park “will have a multiplier effect and bring other services, such as transport and restaurants,” Francois said. “Residents from the other departments will obtain jobs. It might develop the tourist sector to give the country a new image.”
With much of the groundwork already in place, residents now wait for the government to take action on Group Citadelle’s effort to bring inexpensive, reliable energy to the Great North.
“Energy is one of the many factors for development. A majority of cities in the country are in the dark, this opportunity represents a possibility for the Great North to move forward with Group Citadelle,” said Francois.