On the matter of energy, Gregory Mair has hit upon the right idea. Jamaica should be catholic in its approach.
We should not rule anything out, including, Mr Mair told fellow legislators last week, nuclear energy.
That last point is bound to be controversial, as it was three years ago when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), of which Mr Mair is a member, formed the Government and the case for nuclear energy was being pushed by the then Opposition. The suggestion was knocked down by then prime minister, Mr Bruce Golding.
The then proponents of nuclear power, Mr Phillip Paulwell and Mrs Portia Simpson Miller, are now, respectively, the minister of energy and prime minister.
They, clearly, are in a position to reopen and expand the debate. But, more important, Mrs Simpson Miller and Mr Paulwell bring urgency to the process of implementing a mix of available and cost-effective measures to deal with Jamaica's energy crisis.
Indeed, the Government's fiscal constraints apart, the cost of energy is perhaps the biggest drag on the Jamaican economy. At US$0.42 per cent per kilowatt-hour, the cost of electricity is not only substantially more expensive than most other countries in this region, but among the largest cost components of Jamaican firms. Expensive energy weakens their competitive positions.
Up to now, we have perceived the solution largely in terms of natural gas, to replace more expensive oil, to fire proposed, more-efficient power plants.
Indeed, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), the light and power company, won a tender for a 360-megawatt power plant to be fired, primarily, by gas.
Further, the Government has just announced that Samsung, the Korean company, has emerged as the preferred bidder for an LNG storage and regasfication facility. It, however, remains unclear, who, and by what arrangement, will supply LNG for that facility.
JPS has projected that the use of natural gas will lower electricity by around 30 per cent, which some analysts say may not be enough to provide a competitive fillip to Jamaican firms.
However, with a new plant, if it is built, and other conversions, no more than 70 per cent of Jamaica's existing power requirement will be met by natural gas.
Explore cheaper fuels
There is an opportunity, therefore, to explore other cheaper fuels to cover the rest of the island's power needs and future growth. We agree with Mr Mair that nothing, in this regard, ought to be off the table.
The most immediate possibility is coal, a cheaper fuel than LNG, but with environmental issues that new technologies have substantially lessened. Jamaica must also be aggressive on renewables, such as solar and wind power, doing everything in its capacity to enhance the stability and feasibility of such technologies for the domestic environment.
Not too far in the future also, nuclear power, we believe, should be an option for Jamaica. The idea of small nuclear power reactors of the type that would be useful for a country like Jamaica was not so long ago being viewed with scepticism.
Recently, the United States announced the availability of US$450 million to support the engineering and licensing of small reactors. In this regard, the Americans are playing catch-up. But theirs is an imprimatur that Jamaicans don't usually ignore.
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