'Only chance for revival'
Custos of Manchester Sally Porteous is challenging environmentalists opposed to the use of coal as part of the energy mix at the old Alpart bauxite facility in Nain, St Elizabeth, to get their information right and not block the mega-economic project, which she described as the region's "only chance for revival".
"We have the opportunity of a lifetime with JISCO (Jiuguan Iron and Steel) coming to take over the plant. It's going to take them a year to refurbish. They will then hire about 1,000 or 2,000 people. I mean, there is a plan to expand the port and put in a smelter plant, and so forth.
"While I listen to and respect the environmentalists, I sincerely hope that it is not going to be a case of crying wolf and preventing an enormous opportunity for Jamaicans to get work. From what I understand, they will not be using coal from China. They will be using coal from Colombia, (and) the Alpart plant itself will be run on oil, and the coal they are going to be using will not emit any worse emissions than oil," Porteous told a Gleaner Jobs and Growth Forum at the Mandeville Hotel in Manchester on Monday.
"Now, if this is really so and people are not going to be in a dangerous situation, as far as I am concerned, we need to listen very carefully to what they are saying and to welcome them because all kinds of business opportunities exist with JISCO coming," she insisted.
In July, Transport and Mining Minister Mike Henry announced that 700 jobs would be created at the facility by this month, with some 3,000 more jobs coming on stream over the next four years, following the investment of US$2 billion by JISCO to create an industrial zone. The first phase of work to upgrade the plant was projected to cost US$220 million.
The Jamaica Environment Trust has voiced strong objections to the proposed construction of a 1,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant, citing the threat to health and the natural environment.
COAL NOT UP FOR CONSIDERATION
However, Henry who had previously stated that the sale transaction would be completed in three months, admitted to The Gleaner on Tuesday that the issue of coal as the power source is not yet up for consideration. In fact, he said it is still some way down the road.
"There is no decision made, and remember, it's an 18-month build-out before you get to what energy you going put in because the plant has not been functioning for a while. So they have to refurbish the whole of the plant. The build-out has to follow the process of the handing over of the whole process of purchase. So, we have had the agreement for the sale, and the final exchange of funds I think has just taken place or is just taking place. So the JISCO representative on the ground is just due back here in Jamaica for the next signing of the documents," he said.
Henry explained that he had not yet received any application on the use of coal as part of the energy mix for the new owners and of the facility and would lean heavily on the expertise of those in the know, consistent with his administration's commitment to taking a "serious, sensible approach" to the issue.
"I am making sure that NEPA (National Environmental and Planning Agency) and everybody gets all the information and does all the research that the judgment call is a sensible one because the environment is very important to me equally, and we'll have to work around that," Henry said.