REPORT #374 August 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

By Meb Cutlack

Hurricane Hattie crippled Belize and left the entire coun-try in tatters, its infrastructure in ruins, its economy collapsed and the will of its people demoralized and reeling. It sent a generation of young Belizeans abroad and sapped hope and expectation of all at home to the point that still, to-day, the wounds of Hattie are not completely healed.

If the Chalillo dam goes ahead, its aftermath will strike Belize with a greater force than Hattie or any other hurricane. The writing is already on the wall and only those who are blindly march-ing to the tune which the piper is playing, refuse to see it.

This week I received from Switzerland a copy of the motion before the World Conservation Congress condemning Belize over the Chalillo dam. It is not pretty reading.

The motion goes before the WCC at its meeting in Jordan in October. It does not mince words. It is an outright condemnation of the plan to build the second dam on the Macal River.

The document "urges Belize Electricity Limited, and its majority owner, Fortis Inc. to discontinue plans to develop any hydroelectric facilities which would affect the Chiquibul Forest Reserve or Chiquibul Na-tional Park." It "urges the National Envi-ronmental Advisory Council of Belize to reject any plans to build a dam in the Macal River Valley."

The World Conservation Congress "calls on the Govern-ment of Belize to maintain its record of environmental stew-ardship, ensure the continued protection of the endangered species of the Macal River Valley, and prevent the construction of the Chalillo Dam Project in the Macal River Valley." The preamble to these motions is a tally of damage which Chalillo will inflict upon Belize and its en-vironment

It does not begin to list or add up the enormous economic dam-age which this World Conservation Congress condemnation will inflict upon Belize as a whole.

We should not fool ourselves that there will be a bit of a hue and cry and then the whole thing will die down.

No, No! Tourism, and particularly eco-tourism is Belize's fastest growing economic sector. And, as we are hit by the World Trade Organization, against our banana, citrus and sugar industries, tourism will before long be the absolute mainstay of the Belizean economy.

The motion before the World Conservation Congress could quickly turn Belize into a pariah state in tourism terms. It would leave an indelible impression upon many travellers, travel agents and the travel press for years and years to come, and all the money and government effort to promote Belize as a tourism destination will not be able to completely erase this negative image.

Many years ago, I fought in voice and print against Friends of the Earth when they launched their successful campaign to stop Coca Cola's investment in Belize. I fought that battle on the grounds that Coca Cola's plan to grow citrus on Pine Ridge land would not devastate the rain forest as Friends of the Earth alleged. I felt that this investment would be good for Belize and would encourage other investors. Coca Cola pulled out following riots against the U.S. and Coca Cola in Germany. It took years for investors to look at Belize again.

Today it is not simply a case of environmentalists being right or wrong, wise or foolish. It is a case of taking a hard look at the outcome for Belize if Chalillo goes ahead.

Think about it! Look at San Pedro, our beautiful islands, our reef, Cayo, the Mountain Pine Ridge, Caracol, the rapidly grow-ing tourism industry in the North! Look at the prospects for Belize City with the new tourism complex. Look at the enormous potential of our archaeological resources! Just add up all these factors and ask why we are pre-pared to sacrifice - for years to come - the income from these assets!

If we would in fact actually end up with cheaper electricity, then there would at least be some sort of argument, but the supporters of Chalillo are unable to give us even that meagre assurance!

The pro-Chalillo argument seems to be: "Why can't we destroy our environment like they have destroyed theirs?"

Wait a minute! If Belize's preciousness can be preserved and at the same time the Belizean people benefit by jobs and investment to give them better lives, why not preserve Belize?

The real question today is:
Why destroy what Belize has for unfathomable reasons that can only involve big money payouts? The Chalillo dam can result in benefit for only a very few persons at an enormous cost to Belize's truly precious and unique environment, and an unbearable direct cost to present and future generations of Belizeans.

This dam has nothing what so ever to do with cheaper electric-ity. It has absolutely everything to do with big money and the few who will profit. The World Conservation Congress condemnation is not just a rap on the knuckles for BeLize. It is a devastating blow, and there is a good possibil-ity that Belize may never truly recover from it.

But it is not too late. The powers that be can announce the cancellation of the Chalillo dam project before the October meeting and save not just Belize's face and reputation but also Belize's future.

Note: There was a famous eccentric named Smitty in Belize, who built a whole machine shop to run on windmill charge battery banks supplying only 12 volt power. He converted everything, from electrical hand drills, lathes, drill presses and other things to 12 volt. Unfortunately that home grown technology has been lost in Belize except in sporadic isolated instances.

I might mention, that in the eastern Caribbean islands, you can buy televisions and other equipment that will operate on a choice of 220vdc - 50 phase, 110 vAC-60 phase, or 12 volt dc at the flick of a switch, as modern as any latest product out of China. They are not familiar items in Belize, but they are manufactured and sold elsewhere in the Caribbean.

OTHER 12 VOLT CONTRIBUTIONS as alternatives.

by Robert Watson

I lived on boats for 23 years and was self sufficient with regard to electricity. By far the cheapest solution for a remote house is to:

1. use the least electricity possible, and mostly use a 12 volt D.C. system.

2. For refrigeration use either propane, or an apartment size marine Norcold brand 12 volt/110 volt swing motor compressor refrigerator with a freezer on top. They work great and draw only about 60 watts. It actually works on about 23 volts AC using a transformer for 12 volts and a small inverter when on 12 volts. I left mine on 12 volts all of the time.

4. The last ten years on boats were on a 44 ft. motoryacht. We had the Norcold. I had 4 4D batteries in parallel for a battery bank. 8Ds would have been better, but they wouldn't fit. I could charge the batteries rapidly with automotive alternators driven by a small aircooled diesel alternator. The open frame chrysler alternators are cheap at a junkyard and are great, because you can run them at maximum output forever and they take it. To do that, omit the regulator and feed the field 12 volts and the alternator will put out its rated max output. They get hot as hell, but the Chrysler alternators take it. You must watch a voltmeter across the battery bank to make sure that you do not overcharge.

5. Using the above system, and fluorescent lights, 12 volt audio systems, 12 volt TV, etc. We would only have to charge for 2 hours a day in two sessions when the batteries were new and 3 hours a day in three sessions after about 1 year. The batteries were good for two years with that type of abuse.

6. On land, a wind generator could take a lot of the load, using the small diesel and the alternators, when the wind was not sufficient.

So, the key is to limit usage and use 12 volts for everything that you can. Inverters are inefficient and normal 110 volt refrigeration uses a lot of electricity. The Norcold had 3 inches of very good foam insulation.

Incidentally the boat also had a 12 kw diesel generator and an electric stove. Charging batteries at 135 amps while cooking twice a day would do most of the charging. However, with another type of cooking, the entire load could be carried with a small generator. Propane is bad business on motor vessels, as a leak will fill the bilge with propane. Not so bad on sail boats, IF the propane tank is on deck, AND the propane is shut off ON DECK whenever the stove is not being used. I did that for 13 years on sailboats. Propane refrigeration on boats is a VERY BAD idea because the propane is on all of the time and the refrigerator is below decks and is on all of the time with an open flame.

For what it is worth, I disagree with Peter about the Chinese engines. I have several friends who have used them and the metallurgy is shit. They do a ridiculous number of rebuilds. Industrial grade U.S. built or Bristish diesels are expensive, but they are cheap enough used and run damn near forever. I have run commercial vessels with 18,000 hours on 4-71 gm generators that had not yet been overhauled. 8000 plus hours is the norm. My boat had 120 hp English Ford straight six diesels. At 3500 hours, oil consumption was decreasing and they never even had the injectors out.

This message sent to the Bz-Culture Mailing List from "Richard L. Watson" :

For third world countries (and boats) you need to Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). Turbines are extreme precision machines and I have yet to see a mechanic in Central America even use a torque wrench. It matters little whether something like the capstone is efficient, if the local mechanics can't fix it with the wrong tools. The best machines are what the local mechanics understand. For a place like Roatan, that means they same type of engines used for propulsion and power generation on the local boats and ships. Parts and mechanics are available.

And for Peter. From what I have seen of Chinese engines for propulsion in boats and for small air cooled generators. I would not take one if you gave it to me. They are beyond crude and shake so badly that the sheet metal shrouds and fuel tanks fall apart. With engines you pretty much get what you pay for. If you can't afford a good new engine, it is much better to buy a good used engine than to buy a lousy new engine.

This message sent to the Bz-Culture Mailing List from Peter Singfield :

I only mentioned it because this is what they have been using here for the past 50 years. And that only in 1 mwe and up systems (our two old sugar factories).

Your right about the shaking and falling apart on those diesels. But derate them, running them on producer gas -- and they work well. I am very impressed with the results they get in India.

The new series of diesels for power generation -- Wartsila as example:

Are simply incredible. The small (500 kwe to 1 mwe get 36% to 38% efficiencies on bunker C and the large ones (5 mwe to 25 mwe) will get 45% and better on unrefined crude oils!

They run for ever and one day. They "cost" -- but your lucky to get 24% with and old diesel -- that 50% increase in power from the same amount of a cheaper fuel -- pays for the extra capital costs real quick!

Belize could solve all its electrical problems by putting in a 20 mwe unit along those lines and buy crude from the Peten of Guatemala.

Capital costs, maintenance, operational, fuel costs -- still under 8 cents per kwh. And that puts it right there with Mexican pricing (remember -- that 6.5 was 3 years ago!) and half or less of the costs of the hydro power.

Why they do not do this is beyond me!

They could also put one in PG for the entire Toledo area and pay for it in the savings from having to build a line to attach them to the grid! The crude oil terminal is in Puerto Barrios.

They are also the fastest power plant projects to bring on line!

Ignorance of power technology has its price -- as Belize is about to find out.

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