A solar power plant project in Guyana shows the difficulty of considering the rights of indigenous people
Posted on December 08, 2022
Construction of the CEOG hydrogen solar power plant in French Guiana has begun. This project is eagerly awaited to respond to the issues of energy security and the objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the French overseas department. However, indigenous peoples object to the chosen location saying that their rights are not respected. They appear as an adjustment variable in the face of issues related to climate, biodiversity protection, and economic development.
A delegation of the Kali’na, an indigenous American people, traveled to Paris from November 20 to December 7 to challenge the installation of the CEOG hydrogen solar power plant near their Guyanese village, Prospérité. 16 hectares of forest have already been destroyed in the 140 hectares of land covered by the project.
The location chosen for the CEOG is located just two kilometers from Prospérité, in the middle of a forest that is “a living area” and a place of “cultural transmission” that is “important to preserve”, said Clarisse da Silva , member of the Native Youth Association. The arrest of village chief Roland Sjabere on October 24 following a demonstration at the project site burned the powder, which was experienced as a disgrace.
Achieve 100% renewables by 2030
The CEOG project illustrates how difficult it is to reconcile the interests of the energy transition with the interests of indigenous peoples. The project is supposed to respond to the problems of securing access to electricity in Guyana, which experiences “daily cuts”, “especially in some districts of Saint-Laurent de Maroni”, the nearby town , testifies to Clarisse Da Silva. “We need energy, we are not against the project but its location”, she specifies.
The CEOG is also part of the goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2030 set by French Guiana itself. This solar power plant, built by the company HDF Energy, relies on hydrogen batteries to supply the electricity grid with stable energy, without intermissions. A world first for a project of this scale, according to HDF Energy. This solar power plant will be replaced by thermal power plants running on diesel and complete the Larivot power plant, also criticized.
But residents regret being an adjustment variable. They demanded recognition of their use of the forest, which until then belonged to the State. In 2019, it granted the inhabitants more than 3,000 hectares in the form of “collective use rights zones”, a status designed to meet the needs of the Amerindian people. However, the area was cut by 140 hectares dedicated to the CEOG project. The inhabitants of Prospérité deplore a top-down approach, with a place chosen before the discussions, which in fact “excludes the alternatives”, asserts Clarisse Da Silva.
There are many terrain obstacles
On the face of it, HDF Energy claims to have done everything it could to make adjustments, such as leaving the middle lane. But it must be said that the obstacles on the ground are many. In particular, “being close to connection points”, not interfering with the urban development needs of the municipality of Saint-Laurent de Maroni, and “having the smallest possible impact on the environment”, explains Damien Havard, the president of HDF Energy.
Guyana is in fact made up of 96% forest with over 1,300 tree species and many protected species. For CEOG, a wetland is avoided to affect fewer protected species, but the consequence is closer to the village of Prosperity. A legal battle is now underway where biodiversity becomes a tool to protect the needs of indigenous people.
The ideal? “Investing in deforested areas” argues Clarisse Da Silva. “Impossible for the size of this project” responded HDF Energy. More than a hundred Native American leaders are expected on December 17 at Prospérité in support of the protest. A demonstration that could cause difficulty in fearing in the future for other investments of this type, as happened with Rio Tinto, in Australia, after the destruction of an aboriginal area.