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Ditch LNG; pursue coal and hydro

Published:Wednesday | May 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM

John Allgrove, Contributor

Further to the various articles in The Gleaner, I wish to propose the following:

1 The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) should continue to be responsible for the distribution of power islandwide. The distribution system does need further upgrading, which is indeed an ongoing process. I do not see any benefits to be gained by involving players other than JPS, which is already trying to eliminate a major theft problem.

2 Require JPS to be responsible for at least 60 per cent of the generation of power plus agreed reserve, taking into account power produced by others.

3 Cancel the proposed 360MW liquefied natural gas plant. It makes no sense to me to commit ourselves for at least 30 years for this very significant amount of power based on LNG, when it would be far cheaper to use coal.

4 Renegotiate with JPS to immediately proceed to complete designs and construct 400MW coal or coke-fired facilities. This should utilise fluidised bed technology, etc., to deal with removal of sulphur gases. Jamaica should not have to make any investment in this project.

JPS, in the 1990s, had a preliminary engineering-level design done for a 600MW coal-fired power station (with a 200MW first stage at that time) at Burial Ground Point (beside Rocky Point). This allowed for 64,000DWT (Panamax) ships to transport the coal to the site and for limestone to be imported from Breadnut Valley (or other location) by rail to mix with the coal as necessary, depending on the sulphur content. Four hundred megawatts of this capacity could be built first with potential for adding capacity later. This also allows for back-hauling the plant waste to mined-out pits at Breadnut Valley.

As an integral part of this paradigm, JPS should make all appropriate arrangements for the supply of the coal (not the Government) with appropriate supply contracts. There are supplies of coal available in Venezuela, Colombia, the United States, Brazil, etc. Coal should be the main source of baseload energy for the foreseeable future.

Jamaica, in my view, can offset the carbon footprint, given Jamaica's high level of vegetative cover.

5 For the existing gas turbine units which run on diesel oil, the tax should immediately be removed, particularly given the general consumption tax on most customers, and increase production from these relatively more efficient units.

6 Many studies have been done to identify all the still-undeveloped hydroelectric potential. These sources, combined, can supply about 15 per cent of our energy needs. Hydro projects have tremendous benefits. The energy source is essentially free. Once the capital cost is paid off, there is no pollution; about 70 per cent of the cost is for the civil engineering works (which remain); it's very reliable, easy and inexpensive to operate; presents generally no fire/explosive or environmental risks; and the electrical/ mechanical equipment is all well tried and tested with long service lives.

JPS should be required to develop the hydro potential on a phased basis over, say, 10 years, and based on an agreed list of projects.

7 The Government and JPS should then seek to get the remaining power requirements from other private sources, as well as wind and solar energy (including direct power generation).

8 JPS should have prime responsibility to produce and distribute electricity subject to Office of Utilities Regulation oversight.

9 Put aside any ideas of nuclear energy. The initial costs are very high; there are environmental dangers in case of system failures, storage/disposal of fuel rods; and the shutdown of the facilities is very substantial.

10 Consideration should be given to converting the alumina/bauxite plants to coal. The supplies of coal for Alcoa, Kirkvine and Ewarton could be by rail, via the JPS port at Burial Ground Point, and for Alpart, via Port Kaiser.

The Government and JPS have taken far too long to decide how best to proceed. The World Bank-funded power station at Old Harbour (total 220MW), for example, is 45 years old (with an expected normal life of 30 years) and with a fair number of problems throughout its life.

Items 4, 5 and 6 will provide the main bases for reducing the electricity charges very substantially.

John Allgrove is a civil engineer and former deputy general manager of the Urban Development Corporation. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.