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EDITORIAL - Discuss coal rationally

Published:Friday | February 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Omar Davies would have required no great insight to anticipate the antagonism that greeted his disclosure that a coal-fired power plant is part of the proposed Chinese port and logistics facility for the Goat Islands/Portland Bight area of Jamaica's south coast.

For, given the international debate over the use of coal, his announcement would be a sort of 'gotcha' moment for those persons, including the xenophobes, neo-Luddites, and some with genuine concern for the environment, who have been hostile to the project. This newspaper, however, urges caution rather than the usual reflexive antipathy that has characterised the critics.

As we noted yesterday, while Jamaica's Government has begun to demonstrate the fiscal discipline that has been absent from the country's economic management for too long, that will not, of itself, deliver economic growth and jobs. Jamaica needs investment, including by foreigners.


In that regard, a big project like the one suggested by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), with a price tag of more than US$1.5 billion, can't be scoffed at. Unless, that is, our intent is to perpetuate poverty and social dysfunction.

But as is often argued by business people, and highlighted by Dr Davies in Parliament this week, industrial/manufacturing projects like CHEC's are not feasible in Jamaica, with the price of electricity at upwards of US$0.42 per kilowatt-hour.

While the Government recently approved a 360-megawatt liquefied natural gas power plant, uncertainty remains over the supply of the gas at a price that will allow for a significant dent in energy prices here, especially in the absence of a clear signal by the United States that it will allow the export of the product anytime soon. Further, recent rises in the price of LNG are a matter of concern.

The bottom line is that coal is plentiful and cheap.

There is, of course, the issue of carbon and other emissions associated with the burning of coal. Prohibitive environmental regulations in some rich countries, particularly the United States, have caused the displacement by other fuels.

America, though, has energy options. In any event, more than a third of America's power still comes from coal. In Israel, it is nearly 60 per cent; more than 70 per cent in Australia; and near 80 per cent in South Africa.


Several fast-growing and/or emerging economies are also investing in coal.

In the Philippines, for instance, the energy authorities have more than a dozen applications for coal-fired electricity plants, and just recently in Mozambique, a 300-megawatt coal-fired plant came on stream, and several more are in the pipeline, including a 2,600-megawatt facility proposed by the Indian steel giant Jindal. Coal-fired electricity is also helping to fuel Cambodia's emergence from a communist backwater to economic growth.

None of the foregoing is to suggest that Jamaica must ignore the real issues with coal. We insist, though, on a balanced argument, appreciating the emergence of newer 'clean'-coal technologies to ameliorate the effects of coal, as well as the ability to 'sequester' its emissions. In any event, a small plant, perhaps of under 100 megawatts, as is likely to be required for the Goat Islands facility, would hardly pose hazards not easily managed with technical diligence.

The idea is worth discussing.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.