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Finding the CURE

Published:Tuesday | May 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Below is a discussion on energy between Citizens United to Reduce the cost of Electricity (CURE) and an international energy expert on energy issues important to Jamaica.

Q. Should the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) licence be renegotiated, as well as having a new Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) policy?

A. Absolutely. The act was passed in the late 1880s and there have been a series of amendments to assist it to be 'effective and relevant', and that also is part of the problem - the ad hoc modifications. What is needed is a comprehensive, relevant, modern act from which an all-island electricity license should evolve. The act should refer to the role and protection of the paying consumers, the inclusion of renewable energy and its attendant features, as well as the success of the business through fair and equitable practices. The minister with portfolio responsibility and the OUR should be included in the act to see to the optimal operation of the grid.

Q. How do we get better results from the supply and cut the wastage, as only 27 per cent reaches the customer?

A. The transmission and distri-bution grid is outdated, and as such is a source of wastage. The grid, because of its lack of major intelligent applications, causes wastage of energy from any fuel source that is used to produce the electricity. Ask the utility an open question: 'What percentage of a barrel of fuel burnt at the generation section is actually delivered to the customer as energy consumed?' Please note that the consumer pays for all that is wasted en route to him. It's called cost of production/operational cost.

Q. JPS says that generation is open to competition. Will transmission and distribution be better if open to competition also?

A. Yes, but not on a grid that is operated like a sieve. The approach should be, first fix the grid, then compete, so all prospective investors should be advised that the first priority is the grid. Continuing to modernise the electrical power system is a second priority (and that should be in the law). That way, we will never end up with an antiquated system with old units and dilapidated grid networks.

Q. Is LNG the best route for Jamaica now?

A. Yes, given the cost of fuel prices and technology and environmental concerns.

Q. What about clean coal?

A. Clean coal just means adding scrubbers - expensive chemicals to the exhaust to make it less harmful to the environment. Coffee is coffee. Decaffeinated coffee is a marketing tool, and so too is clean coal. There is no such thing based on the generic definition of 'clean'.

Q. How costly and how much time would be necessary for coal start-up?

A. For coal prices, check Bloomberg. It would take 40 months approximately from groundbreaking to light. We can't discuss coal in isolation. The coalist has an investment theory, the gasist has an investment theory. There is a marginal difference in terms of investment choice between coal and gas.

Q. The Petrojam refinery?

A. The Petrojam refinery plant expansion will deliver petcoke at the end of the post-production process. Petcoke and coal are equivalent-burn products. After a petcoke burn in generation plant - the 'ash' can be used for road repair.

Q. In summary, what is your best recommendation for Jamaica, considering the inability to pay these high costs and be competitive in today's world?

A. 1) Real quickly, LNG - lowest cost fuel, shortest possible time for implementation.

2) Sit with Professor Gerald Lalor and plan for nuclear.

3) Rapid expansion of individual renewable-energy systems.

4) Measured inclusion of large-scale renewable energy. It is an inevitability; we are only delaying our future.

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