Energy minister dismisses reports of coal plant
ENERGY MINISTER Andrew Wheatley has sought to quiet ongoing concerns over reports that the new Chinese owners of ALPART, Jiuguan Iron and Steel, are looking to set up a 1,000-megawatt coal plant in Jamaica to support their operations.
"Where we are right now, we have not received any application, any proposal, as it relates to a coal-fired plant at ALPART. What we know for a fact is that the new owners are rehabilitating, retrofitting the old ALPART facility," he told The Gleaner on the sidelines of the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF) in The Bahamas on Tuesday.
"The plan is for them to use the traditional source of fuel - HFO - to drive that bauxite facility. We expect that facility to be up and running in another 16 to 18 months, starting to produce bauxite and employing Jamaicans," he added.
"I don't want to speak for them, but I know they are exploring other sources of energy, separate and apart from coal," Wheatley said further.
At the same time, the minister suggested that this ministry would not readily entertain any such application.
"The truth is that coal is a part of our energy policy, a part of that mix. But if we are to embark on such a direction, it would have to be after serious consultation. We would have to ensure that there is some technology that would, more or less, mitigate against the negative environmental impacts associated with coal in the past," he noted.
"So there is a clean-coal technology being mooted. That is something that we would have to explore. But we would never engage or embark on the use of coal - at least that capacity of producing 1,000 megawatts - without our having the necessary consultations with the different stakeholders," he said.
News of the 1,000-megawatt plant accompanied the sale of ALPART to Jiuguan last year. The construction of such a plant would exceed Jamaica's current generating capacity of some 800 megawatts while threatening to undermine efforts to treat with climate change, which prompted outcry from among civil society actors.
The minister's statements on what would need to happen regarding any coal project, meanwhile, are in line with what the Council of the Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals called for last August.
"We look forward to seeing the holistic analysis on the full economic costs and benefits for the chosen source of energy, including the lifetime costs of energy production, the cost of treatment of pollutant emissions and effluent, the cost of any investment or operation costs for ensuring compliance with all relevant national environmental and working standards," the entity said.
"This analysis should include critical factors such as the economic cost of health effects and medical treatment from exposure to plant emissions and effluent on workers and communities surrounding the plant," the council added.
Ultimately, like a number of other civil society actors, it concluded: "It is our position that a coal-fired plant is counter-productive to Jamaica's own Vision 2030 and our other commitments on energy, sustainable development, and climate change," it said.
"We hasten to point out that there is a cost associated with sourcing and transportation of coal from overseas; the potential impact on human health, including long-term treatment; and the cost of ensuring that all relevant national standards are met," they added.