Sun | Jun 13, 2021

'Coal is the way to go'

Published:Thursday | May 31, 2012 | 12:00 AM

JAMAICA COULD have saved over a billion dollars last year if we had been using coal.

That's according to studies presented by Lincoln Bailey, Jamaica-born co-owner of Mchenga Mine in Malawi, that country's second largest coal mine. Bailey was guest speaker at the Kingston 360 Breakfast Talk Series, hosted by the Mona School of Business and the Spanish Court Hotel.

Using Jamaica Public Service 2011 statistics, Bailey said the company imported a little over seven million barrels of oil for power-generation at a cost of $876 million. The bauxite sector imported about nine and a half million barrels at a cost of $1.1 billion. Bailey calculated that 995,000 tonnes of coal (at $100 per tonne) would equal the power-generation amount of oil.

"So if you take that ... it will only cost $99 million. So it represents a saving to the country of over $776 million." Likewise for bauxite companies, to replace the nearly 10 million barrels would need 1.8 million tonnes of coal. Using the same 100 per tonne, that would be a cost of $185 million, a saving of $954 million.

"Jamaica would have saved $1.7 billion last year if we had used coal. Now that's not small change. What I'm saying is that it's really a no-brainer."

Unhealthy dependence on oil

Bailey was incredulous that a country of Jamaica's size was so dependent on oil, noting that our oil consumption fits the profile of an oil-producing country. He noted that 53 per cent of oil import goes to power generation for public use and about 30 per cent of that goes to bauxite and aluminium processing. He found it strange that coal was not being readily accepted even though coal has historically fuelled nations, including in Europe, North America and Asia.

He noted that coal was responsible for over 90 per cent of South Africa's power generation, 79 per cent in China and 77 per cent in Japan. He noted that the reason for coal's success was that it was cheap, abundant, and could be transported over long distances at low cost.

Bailey pointed out that coal discussions have taken place from the 80's in Jamaica, but nothing was done. He opined that renewable energy like solar and wind had their place, but were more expensive than coal in terms of megawatt-per-hour cost. He also felt they could not be depended for base load power.

He dismissed the notion that coal was still 'dirty fuel', opining that clean coal technology has made strides in the last two decades.