On the year of their 25th Anniversary, the ENMAN Group are finally on the cusp of something almost two decades in the making; we caught up with Donald Baldeosingh, the group’s co-founder and President, to talk about a vision he’s been pursuing since the start of the millennium. If it comes together, it could be a complete game-changer for the Caribbean, and would certainly make waves in both the oil & gas and the renewable energy sectors…
The ENMAN Group was founded by three men with a shared dream; then ENMAN Services, the company managed to forge enough of a space for itself in Trinidad and Tobago’s heavy energy sector to grow into a five-company group. Today, the ENMAN Group covers not only power and energy services, but also marketing, media and even healthy living information.
Starting out where their strengths lay, the new venture marked themselves out as different from the off: “Our focus was on offering services to the energy sector from outside the gate,“ explains Donald. “Prior to that, everybody in Trinidad and Tobago kept their own in-house resources, and outsourcing hadn’t really taken root. However, we decided to develop excellence in engineering that could be offered to all the operating plants, and in particular in the areas of high technology, computerised control system and fibreoptic communication, which were all in their infancy in those days.” Offering these services, ENMAN developed a reputation that soon made them invaluable to the islands’ leading industry sector.
Two years in, Donald was also appointed as the non-executive Chairman of Petrotrin, Trinidad and Tobago’s national oil company – aka, the most influential company in the country. With a workforce 10,000 strong and an annual turnover, then, of US$2 billion, it was a daunting yet possibility-rich responsibility: “I was 34 when I was appointed Chairman, and I was intent on making sustainable change. I was already looking into the future of energy for the region; I found myself spearheading a Caribbean Climate Change Centre in 1999/2000, and we started looking at renewable energy for Petrotrin’s future, as well as working to reduce its current environmental impact.”
Donald was ahead of the curve in his environmental concerns, especially given his position within the oil and gas industry. “In those days, pollution was seen as a natural consequence of the rich reward we got from having oil and gas. So, I was an oddity then.” He stood out not only because of his views, but also his relative youth amongst the powerful figures he was working with – but therein, Donald believes, was his strength. “I was a very young person in a sector that was dominated by a lot of tradition and history, older heads and so on, and I think that is part of the reason that I was brave enough to be different. I think younger people feel as though they have more of a stake in the future.”
Donald may have seemed idealistic, but under him, Petrotrin produced something that couldn’t be argued with – results. “We got Petrotrin reporting on its environmental and social performance, as well as its commercial performance, and the company year to year improved on its profitability. During my time as Chairman, the company’s profitability grew to ten times what it was when I started. Through this, we were able to demonstrate what is possible with better attention to corporate governance and performance management.”
The results may have been clear, but the path there was not an easy one. As a young figure in the industry, and one looking to drastically change the way the country’s oil and gas business was done, Donald faced resistance at every turn. “It was extremely difficult – it was changing a whole order of things, and upsetting a lot of people who had benefitted from the old order. They were kicking and screaming the whole way – and then there’s the big c-word, corruption.” The transformation process that Donald took Petrotrin on encountered every hurdle, and was such a significant operation that he now lectures on the experience at the University of the West Indies, which uses the event as a case study on the potential barriers to industrial change – especially in the state sector.
During his time as Petrotrin’s Chairman, Donald began to look to Guyana and the possibilities offered by the then under-developed country. The potential in Guyana was three-fold: firstly, whilst it was unconfirmed at the time, there was every reason to suspect that the country was sitting on oil and gas potential (as Donald put it, “It stood to reason that they were; Trinidad was, Venezuela was, Surinam was, Brazil was – why would the good Lord have skipped Guyana in the middle of all of this?”), but much more significantly, it had vast natural resources such as food and natural minerals and, most importantly, Donald saw in it great potential for hydro-electric power. This potential inspired Donald, who felt strongly that Trinidad and Tobago needed to invest in a future beyond oil and gas before the finite resource upon which the country’s economy relied dwindled. During an event in Paris, he got speaking with Guyana’s Minister of Finance, who would soon after become its next President. He seized the opportunity of this meeting and pitched a mutually beneficial proposition:
“I said to him, ‘Guyana historically owes Petrotrin money for products that you’ve never paid for.’ At that time, Guyana was a HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Country), the second-poorest in the hemisphere after Haiti, but I said, ‘To me, Guyana is one of the richest countries in the hemisphere, in terms of its concentration of natural resources in a small land footprint, and with less than 700,000 residents. So, we don’t want money – we want a share in your oil company and your power company, and we will grow these two industries to the benefit of everyone.’” At the time, Petrotrin’s annual turnover was three times Guyana’s whole GDP. “I said, ‘Petrotrin will do all that you need for the country and will help you to develop these important sectors, and in our selfish way, we would be creating a future for Trinidad and Tobago beyond oil and gas.’ He said, ‘Sounds good, let’s see what we can do.’”
Unfortunately, creating change also makes enemies, and the young Chairman soon found himself under pressure from powerful players within the global oil and gas industries, to the extent that he felt in fear for his physical safety. Petrotrin faced the challenges thrown their way head on, achieving justice in court where needed and emerging as a stronger entity than ever before – however, eventually, the amount of negative attention, threats and opposition that Donald had attracted became counter-productive, and after years of victorious battle against his challengers, he stepped down. When he did, half of Petrotrin’s board stepped down with him in support – a clear acknowledgement of the impact he had made and the respect he had earned there, even in the face of struggle.
Soon after he stepped down, Donald ran into the President of Guyana once more; “He said, ‘All of these big ideas you had for Guyana – what are you going to do about them now?’, and I told him that I still planned to do them, but from the private sector.” Following this conversation, Donald travelled to Guyana to assess the possibilities of moving forwards. In March 2001, the plan was thus: to create a model in Guyana similar to Trinidad, but more diverse and sustainable. Whereas Trinidad and Tobago use their oil and gas both as their power source and as the natural resource they process using this power, they put double the demand on what they have – alternatively, Donald suggested that Guyana could use its renewable energy source for power, leaving any oil and gas purely as an exportable resource.
Once a suitable site for the construction of their proposed hydropower plant was located and studied, the ENMAN Group started searching for a partner, and found them in Hardy Stevenson and Associates – expert Canadian hydropower professionals. From here, the next challenge wasn’t the If, but the How: “We knew that we had this large resource of hydro-electric power available – but who would use it? Guyana’s demand was only 1/10 of what we would be able to produce. The situation was similar to Trinidad in the ‘70s and ’80, when our gas became what was known as a ‘stranded resource’: it was here, but was of no value unless we could take it to a market, or could bring a market to it.” The investment cost of the hydropower plant – US$2 billion – would not be feasible until buyers for this power were in place.
So, in 2005, the ENMAN Group began looking into the possibilities of exporting this power. First of all, they looked to northern Brazil, a land-locked territory in need of energy. The country showed interest, but due to changes in the government mid-talks, the proposition didn’t get off the ground. “Next, we went up the island chain, looking to take the power all the way to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which are large demand centers to the north, and this would include Trinidad and Tobago as well. We got a lot of interest, but people didn’t believe it could happen, so we weren’t able to close.”
This is the frustration in selling a commodity that isn’t in production yet – especially when exporting said resource raises its own challenges. “You can’t simply put hydro-electric power on a barge like oil and gas and take it to another country – the way to send it is by cable.” This challenge inspired Donald’s vision for the Caribbean: an interconnected set of islands, joined through cabling to form one fully connected, cooperative energy market.
“We began to look at the interconnection concept in more detail, and recognised that it was critical to the energy future of the region. We have several territories that can produce renewable power way beyond their own market demand: for example, you have a little island like Nevis with a demand of only 20 MW, yet they could produce 200 MW of geothermal energy, but they can’t build a full-scale plant unless they can export the power. The Caribbean power interconnection would allow us to connect the islands and create one energy market. In the island chain, all of the volcanic islands – St Lucia, St Vincent, Dominica, Grenada, Nevis, St Kits – have geothermal energy to varying degrees. Then, to the south you have in Guyana and Surinam, who together have 14,000MW of hydroelectric power potential – enough to power the whole Caribbean.”
Whilst Donald’s vision would benefit the entire Caribbean, his goal first and foremost is, of course, to prepare Trinidad and Tobago for the future. “Trinidad has to look for sustainability beyond oil and gas. We have a very high carbon footprint in Trinidad – we are the second highest producer of carbon emissions in the world, bar Africa. On top of this, the production of oil and gas now is falling off, and we must start thinking about a world where people are not relying on hydrocarbon products. We have to diversify our economy away from its over-dependence on this one industry.” The role he imagines for Trinidad and Tobago in a connected Caribbean is a central one, with their well-established gas supply serving as a safety-net that could come into effect during peak periods and dry spells – and, in the meantime, as a backbone upon which to develop the necessary renewable energy plants.
Turning dreams into reality is a slow process, and coordinating a costly development between multiple countries is one that historically can take decades – and this is no exception. 17 years from first conception, the pieces are only now seeming to come into place for Donald’s vision to move forwards. As he told us, “It’s very complex to get everybody aligned in anything. So, we’re currently trying to simplify the plan.” Everything has to start somewhere, and for a connected Caribbean with a strong renewable energy industry, the ENMAN Group hope to start by linking up Trinidad and Guyana; the discussions are already in place, the investigations have been carried out, and the two countries are on friendly terms, with much to gain from each other if the project goes ahead.
Global attitudes today are finally treating climate change and sustainable energy seriously, enough so that Donald feels the time is right to get the investment and support needed to move forwards. “We are in a position where the world needs to be carbon-free by 2050. In the Caribbean, we sometimes feel like we’re outside the radar and can’t make much of an impact, but everybody has to make that change.” With this shifting attitude, enthusiasm for this type of longer-term, green investment has grown, and Donald says that the stars have finally aligned: “We are now at a stage where we have the suppliers, contractors and investors in place. I’ve had some preliminary meetings with Guyana’s vice-presidency, the high commission in Trinidad and so on, and we are preparing to go to another meeting in Guyana with, hopefully, the president, to show them that now is the right time to start construction.”
However, life is not without its complications, and there is a big one: Guyana has now found its oil and gas. The discovery sees Guyana set to become one of the most prolific hydrocarbon territories in the region in three to four years’ time: this is exciting news to Guyana, but could be a spanner in the works in terms of a hydroelectric power plant. “You cannot stop Guyana from wanting the oil and gas,” Donald explains, going on to say that the discovery seems like a golden ticket to a country facing challenges. “There are twice as many first-generation Guyanese living outside of Guyana than in it: its main export over the years has become people, including its brightest and best.”
The hope is that an economic boost will attract Guyanese people home again, but where does this leave Donald and Trinidad and Tobago? “I am putting up a strong case with the new government, who have been in place for two years, saying we should accelerate the hydro-electric power development.” His plans remain exciting and empowering one for Guyana, and through them, they could provide an empowering future for a post-oil and gas Trinidad. Through it all, Donald’s thoughts have been on the environment, but more specifically, they have been on his home:
“Typically, big ideas over here will come from a company from overseas, who put a project together looking from the outside, and hire us to get involved in making it happen. This is home grown, focused heavily on solving local problems and viewed from within.”
Hopefully, the stars really have aligned, and this exciting build will take off the ground soon. When it does, it could be the first domino in a carefully arranged chain that will transform Caribbean energy as we know it, for the good of our planet, and for every island in that cooperative chain.