CARICOM Energy Personality Series
Ellsworth Dacon hits the right notes to explore the world of geothermal energy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines
In this feature, we present Ellsworth Dacon to the CARICOM Energy Personality Series.
Written by Tenille Clarke
Media & Communications Consultant – GiZ/CARICOM
A leader undeterred by seemingly insurmountable challenges, Ellsworth Dacon brings sense to dollars as St. Vincent and the Grenadines moves strategically towards sustainable living. As the Director of Energy, he has applied his nineteen-year experience within the field of energy to venture into widening the lens of public and private collaborations, while closing the gap of energy needs for the nation of 110,000 citizens. With international partnerships and ever-changing technologies at play, Dacon habitually reasons with the realities of energy efficiency for his homeland by adapting a multi-layered approach to maximizing the available resources, using best practice project management methods and control processes that brings into focus community awareness, legal explorations and social and environmental impact assessments for clean energy options for citizens.
Well known for being a team player by nature, Ellsworth Dacon has not only had the opportunity to showcase his undeniable spirit of collaboration as the Director of the Energy Unit for the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. His ardent love for music of all genres has also brought much-needed balance to his often-hectic career. “I’m an avid listener of music and as a DJ, I do playlists that last for around an hour and twenty minutes. I have a WhatsApp group and I send my mixes to people so that they can use it to exercise or to casually listen, and it’s also helped me during my work travels,” he explained. Originally born in Trinidad and Tobago, Dacon moved to the mountainous islands in the Lesser Antilles at the tender age of four, where he has lived for most of his life. “St. Vincent is made up of 32 islands and cays, and I believe it makes us unique because since we are volcanic; it means that we have the black sands as well as have the white sands. We’re one of the few islands in the Caribbean with that feature, along with our beautiful waters,” Dacon said. He also pointed out the centenarian Nine Mornings Festival during the Christmas season as another unique national quality – a community-driven tradition that commences on December 16th, where neighbours come together for a series of activities, including carolling, cooking, street parades with lighted flambeaus, dances and sea baths, just to name a few. It is a deeply rooted social practice, Dacon elucidates, that is a true representation of the passion that is interwoven into the very fabric of the history and culture of Vincentian people.
With a formidable background in energy risk management, business planning and evaluation, electrical audits and funding negotiations, Dacon is no stranger to bringing that same Vincentian passion to the forefront of his day to day professional responsibilities that involve the implementation of energy policy and procedures to benefit his fellow citizens. “Energy is something that you have to be passionate about, and it’s the single factor that drives our economies,” admitted the University of Alabama bachelor’s degree holder in Electrical Engineering. “Sustainable development, via climate change and energy efficiency, is something that I developed a zeal for. I see it as the gamechanger for economic development in the Caribbean, and I say this because energy is possibly the highest operation cost in the region,” he noted. Factoring such regional expenditures as manufacturing, tourism, transportation, food processing and security, Dacon emphasized that the low capital generation in diesel investment has been the biggest challenge that the citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have faced in making the transition to sustainable living. For him, it means that corporate and residential renewable options can be seen as slightly cost-prohibitive to the utilities sector. “There’s a disconnect between the implementation and the action plan and buy-in is needed from the utility. There has to be a mandate that demands utility to have set targets,” he suggested, with penalties activated when there is a failure to act.
As an industry leader that has collaborated with regional and international institutions to implement a number of energy projects, this University of the West Indies’ Project Management graduate understands the imperativeness of energy efficiency from a technical perspective. Dacon’s advocacy towards geothermal energy resources leans heavily on providing maximum strategic value and efficiency for Vincentian consumers as well as the public sector. “A sustainable champion has to have a good rapport with the Government, the policy makers, the utility organizations, and the private sector. “They have to be able to bring together all of the stakeholders at one table to create one common vision to drive development,” he ascertained. One such example is the country’s goal to reduce the cost of electricity by one-third by 2022. “St. Vincent is 5% hydro, 1% solar and 94% diesel. Our tariff is about USD $0.38 per kilowatt. We have an abundance of indigenous resources, including the sun,” he explained – echoing the sentiments of Prime Minister Ralph Gonzalves, who considers the reliance on imported oil for power generation a driver for inflated and unstable power prices. With the potential of raising renewable sources from 6% to 60% using geothermals, the transition to more energy efficient options reduces the country’s reliance on more volatile pricing options and eases the drain on foreign exchange. It’s a significant transformation that requires heat and permeability and, according to him, is quite achievable given the target – but it has not come without setbacks and challenges to the scientific hypotheses. “This has been 20 years of moving towards geothermal, and there’s no Caribbean country besides Guadeloupe that has been successful in geothermal energy. There will continue to be a significant push on my part to break that barrier and demonstrate that this option can change the landscape of our country,” he noted, highlighting the roles of LPH’s Board and its parent company’s (Emera’s) Boards, RG’s Board and both the Government’s Energy Committee and Cabinet. In assessing the progress and technical and economic feasibility at key project milestones, the bottom line must benefit the Vincentian consumer.
Geothermal development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is therefore part of a multipronged approach to energy efficiency that requires other thoughtful, innovative methodologies, and Dacon continues to reiterate the need to work within the target prices to ensure agreements are reasonable explorations for all parties. This specific philosophy conjoins with one of the Director of Energy’s career-defining moments in his nearly decade-long sustainable development career. “Our Government doesn’t have the budget to take this fiscal risk, so putting together the finance – where USD$20-28million came from external grants and other contingents and only $1million came from our Government – was a huge win. I think that demonstrated that finance is not the barrier in sustainable development; if you can prove through negotiation of donors and processional financing, you can get it done – even if the project is high-risk. It requires determination, technical knowledge, commitment and strong leadership,” he affirmed. Assisting with the reassessment of the Electricity Supply Act of 1979 has been another complimentary milestone achievement for Director Dacon. “The act made no mention to renewables on the grid, and now it speaks of those – as well as tariffs, regulations, and generally being more involved with the sector. It is more geared at establishing a partnership with the private sector to achieve more sustainable development,” he noted. Electric mobility – a relatively new drive for energy efficiency on the island – is also quickly becoming a go-to consumer option due to the reduction of import duties by the Government. He hopes that the introduction of electric and hybrid vehicles will result in the reduction of fossil fuels in St. Vincent.
For Ellsworth Dacon, being named a CARICOM Energy Personality brings into focus the women and men who are actively making meaningful contributions to communities, cities and countries throughout the CARICOM region in the energy industry. “There’s a sense of self-gratification for me, because you feel valued and recognized,” he summarized. “I think the acknowledgement encourages others to push forward and not get discouraged on their quest for sustainable development.” As someone who frequently interfaces with the region’s youth – whether through music or sustainable energy, one message is clear from Mr. Dacon: the world is changing. “Over the last 10 years, we’re getting stronger hurricanes, more rain, more heat, and it’s all centred on climate change. If this is not enough to bring to our attention the need to become sustainable, we need to only think of what has happened during COVID19. You need to develop a plan, a strategy and a policy directive that can assist your country to move towards sustainable development,” he said. Ultimately, he would like to see the legacy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines maintain 100% sustainable livelihoods. “It will be the first country in the Caribbean to be 100% renewable,” he projected. “I think we have all the ingredients: the political directive, compassionate leadership that takes the agenda seriously, and state utilities that are on board to work with the energy policy and agenda. We will be.”
This article is part of the CARICOM Energy Personality Series, an activity of CARICOM Energy Month 2020 and is produced by the CARICOM Energy Unit, the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE), and the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) funded, Technical Assistance Programme for Sustainable Energy in the Caribbean (TAPSEC). The series aims to give recognition to regional energy champions who have made exceptional contributions in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy access, resilience, and rural electrification throughout the Caribbean Community. To read more features within the series, please visit us at https://energy.caricom.org.