Mon | Nov 29, 2021

Coal remains a better option

Published:Sunday | September 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir,

Please permit me the opportunity to respond to Mr Howard Chin's letter (September 18) on clean coal, which was prompted by an interview I did. Mr Chin based his disapproval of my proposal on the fact that coal plants produce, among other things, carbon dioxide, ash, and sulphur dioxide, all of which are harmful to the environment unless disposed of safely and efficiently.

Let me make my position clear: all energy production comes with trade-offs. As policy decision makers, we all have to weigh the positive against the negative implications of any energy source we decide on. In my view, when this is objectively done, coal, using clean-coal technologies, is our best option at this time.

I have said repeatedly that one of the foundations on which Jamaica must build its economic future is on a cheaper energy source. Jamaica currently pays up to six times the cost of energy of our major trading partners. The cost of energy in some businesses can be as high as 10 per cent of sales. If your competitor is paying less than two per cent for the cost of their energy, then they will have an eight per cent cost advantage in the market place. For example, the same business in Jamaica that pays $850,000 per month in electricity charges will pay $150,000 in Trinidad.

Is it any wonder why, for this and other reasons, Trinidad sells to Jamaica more than 25 times the amount that Jamaica sells to them?

Coal is the world's largest energy source for national grids representing 40 per cent of electricity production worldwide. In recognition of the environmental impact, the research and development of clean-coal technologies (CCTs) over the past 20 years have so advanced that they enhance both the efficiency and the environmental acceptability of coal extraction, preparation and use. CCTs are currently reducing the greenhouse emissions and carbon dioxide emissions from coal-based electricity generation and increasing the market potential for businesses.

In 2008, of the total volume of carbon released from fossil fuels worldwide, coal and petroleum each produced approximately 36 per cent, while natural gas produced 21 per cent. When we consume energy, whether using gasolene in cars, heating or cooling our homes with natural gas, or lighting our homes with electricity, we produce green house gases (CO2). The average American household produces 12.4 tons of carbon dioxide from household operations, and an estimated 11.7 tons from automobile use. The CO2 emissions per person per year of the USA is 20 tons; The United Kingdom 9.5 tons; Japan 9.4; China 2.7 tons; and India 0.96 tons. The point is that we are all guilty of polluting the atmosphere and while we strive for clean renewable energy that will have little or no impact on our environment, we must nonetheless make hard choices in the best interest of our country's economic growth and improvement of the per capita income of our population.

South East St Ann

Mr Chin says, "It's not too bad if you're burning coal to make cement like Carib Cement Company does, because the ash becomes a part of the cement." Mr Chin may be unaware that St Ann was chosen as the site for a second cement plant recently. Our limestone deposits (the raw material for cement) are both outstanding in quality and quantity. Currently, we export industrial grade limestone from St Ann. He should also be aware that the biggest problem facing the expansion of our bauxite industry is the high cost of local energy. Additionally, the ash from coal cannot only be used in the manufacturing of cement but also in road repairs, a practice commonly used in South America. In other words, an industry could be anchored around coal that reduces the cost of construction (cement) and improves our road networks.

If we had a coal plant in St Ann, this would justify the reopening of the Reynolds plant in my constituency, for instance. Furthermore, alumina plants require significant quantities of sulphuric acid in their production process. A formidable coal plant could also assist the bauxite companies by providing them with this commodity. The coal plant I proposed would, therefore, benefit my constituency and Jamaica in several ways: reducing the cost of electricity across Jamaica, reducing the electricity costs to the hotels, facilitating the expansion of the mining industry, and creating a new cement plant for the export of products to North America. Currently, the Dominican Republic operates three coal plants which contribute 20 per cent of their energy demand. Persons pay US$0.15 per kilo watt hour for energy as compared to Jamaica that is in excess of US$0.32 per kilo watt hour. They also use low-sulphur coal, less than one per cent, as compared to the three per cent, sulphur-heavy fuel oil we use in Jamaica.


While my position is supporting the competitive access to our energy grid, I do not support the arguments advanced by some that liquefied natural gas (LNG) is our energy "saviour". They fail to address any of the significant questions posed, e.g.: What will the final price of LNG be? Where will we get our sources from? Who will guarantee the supply? How can we prevent cartelisation when it now becomes our sole fuel source since this does not represent a diversified fuel strategy? If LNG is so cost effective, why do we need to provide guarantees of a market prior to making an investment?

Additionally, there are limited sources of LNG throughout the world, and, therefore, in the coming years, we could be subjected to a cartel similar to OPEC, which could adjust prices as it sees fit. We would be 'out of the frying pan into the fire'. Since Jamaica is an island and the proposed facility is to be on a barge, what guarantees do we have if a hurricane were to destroy the barge? The cost of transporting and distributing LNG is the most expensive of all energy sources. What guarantees will we be offered against vandalism of the pipes which are required for distribution?

Space will not permit me to go into more detailed information on the justification of coal versus LNG, but I would be very happy to sit with Mr Chin to discuss the matter further.

I am, etc.,