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EDITORIAL - Choose well on energy

Published:Tuesday | January 11, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Judging from Mr Christopher Zacca's remarks, when the energy minister, Mr James Robertson, was yanked from the leadership of the Government's energy-conversion project, there was no clear technical path for the transition from oil to liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the country's fuel of choice for generating electricity.

Yet, a consortium led by Exmar Corporation had already been named the preferred bidder for storage, regasification and pipeline-delivery facilities for LNG, and the Office of Utilities Regulation had published its request for a proposal for 480 megawatts of electricity-generating capacity based on natural gas.

Indeed, Mr Zacca, appointed by Prime Minister Bruce Golding to lead a task force that now oversees the project, revealed that an independent consultant who reviewed the plans "pointed out some directions we should take in terms of making sure it was most beneficial to the country".

By Mr Zacca's estimation, there were no "alarms" in that report.

This newspaper does not question Mr Zacca's judgement of the import of the consultant's findings and/or recommendations, but supports the call by the shadow energy minister that the report should be publicised. Moreover, we repeat our own call for the economic and technical analyses that informed the Government's decision to embrace an energy policy based on LNG to be also made public.

Mr Zacca's revelation of a consultant's report suggests that the administration had reservations about what was in place, or at least there were unanswered questions and issues that needed resolution before it could proceed with the project. Seeking clarification was sensible.

Nation's future hinges on choice

But there is a larger point to be made, or repeated. It is this newspaper's contention that energy could be the game-changer for the competitiveness of the Jamaican economy if this conversion programme is done right. In that regard, the choice of fuel must be the genuine least-cost option - the one that delivers power to consumers at the cheapest price while meeting the regulatory standards on emissions.

The process, therefore, has to be transparent. We should know, for instance, of the economic and other technical arguments in favour of LNG or any other fuel, including coal, the latter of which generates nearly half the world's electricity at a cost, in North America, around half the price of LNG.

This energy programme is too big a deal for us to get it wrong.

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