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Dewhurst Group explains their Social Impact Assessment in Colombia

Picture from Colombia where Dewhurst will work on a geothermal project
Francisco Rojas 18 Jun 2014

At a recent event of the Energy & Infrastructure Workgroup of the Society for International Development in Washington, Dewhurst Group explained its work with a social impact assessment on a geothermal project in Colombia.

At a recent event on the Opportunities and challenges for geothermal energy in the developing world earlier this month, Kara Dewhurst from the Dewhurst Group talked about her company’s work in Colombia.

She began by explaining that conflict, even-though inherent to most projects can have great impact in ongoing projects, highlighting the beneficial effect of  risk mitigation strategies. She mentioned a recent study that shows delays due to conflict have caused mining companies an estimated 20 million dollars a week. Human rights are also a challenge to mining and other projects.

Most industries engage in social impact assessments (SIA) that seem to be standard practice for most industries and a requirement of many lending agencies yet for smaller industries like geothermal, they are not as common as they should be due to less regulation.

She also mentioned that participatory development is an umbrella term commonly used by companies to involve local people in the planning and implantation of projects. This can also be known as community relations or public involvement. It is a strategy to reduce conflict and harm. She then cited the Tintaya Mine in Peru as an example of community relations.

According to the event summary, the Dewhurst Group is currently working with Empresas Publicas de Medellin in Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia to establish a geothermal plant. This area surrounds a volcano, and includes several small communities of farmers living in very poor conditions. Additionally, the population is very fluid and dispersed, making it difficult to gather a census. Ms. Dewhurst noted that there has been a lack of resistance in Nevado Del Ruiz to the development project thus far. Several factors contribute to the lack of discourse. This is a non-indigenous population, and what usually attracts media attention are threats to indigenous populations. There is also a lack of community structure that would make a social movement possible since the population is so dispersed. Additionally, the project would cause a smaller footprint.

Dewhurst admitted that the project is impacting the community in both good and bad ways even if said project is still on its infancy. The project will benefit the community by improving infrastructure and roads and infrastructure that will greatly help the population. A downfall, however, is that the project will likely disrupt the local economy.

Ms. Dewhurst concluded with a few points:

  1. the social impact from infrastructure projects are not the same as environmental impacts;
  2. there is a need for more and better SIA’s; and
  3. we can model after other industries.

Renewable energy development is an important part of sustainable development, but it should not be assumed that all people benefit equally. Ms. Dewhurst remains hopeful that the geothermal energy sector can avoid the poor reputation of other energy sectors by maintaining transparency, due diligence, and accountability.

Video from the Event in Washington: Video Link 

Slides from the Presentation from Dewhurst

Source: Society For International Development