BELIZE CITY–Belizean entrepreneur, Rudolph Castillo, has designed a power generation and cohune oil production project, an outline of which has been presented to the Public Utilities Commission in a proposal to supply 30 megawatts of power to the national grid, which was ranked 7th among 37 new projects from 22 companies which hope to make the final cut of designated enterprises that will be chosen to feed 75 megawatts of power (including 15 megawatts from wind and solar sources) into the national grid over the next 10 years.
According to Castillo, owner of Cohune Energy Limited, the cohune palm, of indigenous origin, is resilient and probably the most solid and valuable crop in Belize, and unlike hydro projects, which rely on natural water cycles, it is a potential energy source that is able to withstand hurricane, drought and climate change effects.
The $350 million cohune project has the potential to create up to 4,000 jobs, Castillo said. Apart from that, though, long-term project expansion could engage several landowners and farmers, who may be able to supply cohune to the facility as it expands production.
Castillo will know in a few weeks whether his project’s bid to the Public Utilities Commission has been successful, after the project has been subjected to a dispatch simulation exercise. If it clears that stage, then the project would be recommended to the Belize Electricity Limited for negotiations to formulate a power purchase agreement.
Castillo is hoping that his project will make the cut. He told us that a cohune tree will give at least 10 bunches of nuts a year, but their production figures are based on a conservative estimate of 5 bunches a year, which would then yield 2.1 billion pounds of nuts a year and potentially 150 MW of power – almost twice what Belize uses, he said.
Cohune Energy Limited is also considering other project dimensions, including eventually exporting energy to Mexico and exporting the high-energy cohune shells to Europe, where the energy policy is shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels and towards reliance on biomass. He said that the Europeans, who import biomass from other countries, are very impressed with the power of the nut, as cohune gives 2 to 3 times the bang per buck of wood chips.
The project site would be a 30,000-acre plot near Belmopan which Castillo said already has 15,000 cohune trees. However, the enterprise involves expanding the coverage of cohune trees to achieve sustainability. It also involves the importation of eucalyptus chips, which he said has been included as a source for generating power to provide an extra layer of comfort for the bankers which would finance the project.
Castillo said that the company’s primary objective is to supply power to the local market, and then it would look towards exporting to the region.
“If we combine cohune oil and energy, we are talking about close to a billion US dollars a year,” Castillo said, adding that most of the proceeds would actually come from the exportation of the cohune oil, which could, in turn, open up a window of opportunity for secondary production of canned produce in Belize.