By Desmond L. Brown
KINGSTON, Jamaica (ACP-IDN) – More than 21,000 people have signed a petition opposing coal-fired power in Jamaica. The #SayNOtoCoalJA initiative, being led by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), is calling on the Government of Jamaica not to turn to coal as a fuel source for industrial development here.
In July 2016, the Jamaican Government announced the sale of the old Alpart bauxite plant at Nain in St. Elizabeth to Jiuquan Iron & Steel Company Limited (JISCO) of China, as well as a 2 billion dollar investment in an industrial zone, powered by a 1000 megawatt (MW) coal-fired plant, creating 3,000 jobs.
A 1000 MW coal-fired plant exceeds Jamaica’s entire current generating capacity which is about 850MW.
JET wants the government to continue the transition to a new energy future for Jamaica, as outlined in many government documents which emphasise energy conservation, renewables and liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a transitional fuel for the island nation of 2.7 million people.
“Coal-fired plants have several negative impacts on public health and the environment,” said JET’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Diana McCaulay. “Coal plant emissions cause respiratory illness in humans, and affect the environment by creating acid rain and contributing to global climate change.”
McCaulay has also rebuffed comments by Custos of Manchester Sally Porteous – reported in Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner – who implied that a coal-fired plant would be no worse than one powered by oil in terms of its emissions.
“Coal, in fact, is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels,” said McCaulay. “It emits far greater quantities of carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels.”
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions represent the largest share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which are blamed for global warming trends associated with climate change.
A modern coal-fired plant emits 762 kilograms of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, if there is no CO2 capture. The 1000 MW plant alone would emit roughly 6.7 million tonnes of CO2 per year, just over half of Jamaica’s 2025 target under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Jamaica was among 150 nations to sign the Paris Agreement, which signalled the commitment of the international community to combat climate change and its wide-ranging effects.
The #SayNOtoCoalJA petition also calls on the government to abide by its commitments to the Paris Agreement, which requires phased reduction of GHGs. “The building of the proposed coal-fired plant would be in direct contradiction to that agreement,” said McCaulay.
Coal-fired power plants also typically emit a host of other pollutants besides carbon dioxide. The possible mercury, lead, arsenic, sulphur dioxide, dust and soot emissions associated with a coal-fired power plant also have significant impacts on public and environmental health.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 59 percent of all sulphur dioxide and 18 percent of all oxides from nitrogen emissions come from coal-fired power plants.
Another environmentalist, Wayne Chen, described the proposed plant as “short-sighted”, adding that it poses danger to residents in the vicinity of the plant. “While there will be immediate gains for the owners, in particular, and for the country, the extent to which is still not clear, the losses in the long run will cancel these gains,” he explained.
“The science of climate change is clear: if we wish to limit global temperatures rising to 1.5ºC or less above that of the pre-industrial revolution level and avoid the dangerous consequences of climate change, it is necessary to cut back on fossil fuel immediately, especially cutting back on the biggest emitter, which is coal.
“Contrary to popular belief, Jamaica’s greenhouse gas emissions are not insignificant. In 2011, our emissions, based on World Bank data, compared with those of Uruguay in South America and Georgia in Europe. With an additional 1,000 MW coal plant, our GHG emissions will more than double, especially since coal emits about 1.3 times more CO2 than oil. This will put us in league with Bolivia and Croatia,” Chen added.
For his part, Jamaican Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley dismissed the disquiet over reports of the coal plant as much ado about nothing. "Where we are right now, we have not received any application, any proposal, as it relates to a coal-fired plant at Alpart,” Wheatley told IDN.
“What we know for a fact is that the new owners are rehabilitating, retrofitting the old Alpart facility. The plan is for them to use the traditional source of fuel – HFO – to drive that bauxite facility. We expect that facility to be up and running in another 16 to 18 months, starting to produce bauxite and employing Jamaicans," he added.
"I don't want to speak for them, but I know they are exploring other sources of energy, separate and apart from coal," Wheatley added, suggesting that his ministry would not readily entertain any such application.
"The truth is that coal is a part of our energy policy, a part of that mix. But if we are to embark on such a direction, it would have to be after serious consultation. We would have to ensure that there is some technology that would, more or less, mitigate the negative environmental impacts associated with coal in the past."
"So, there is a clean-coal technology being mooted. That is something that we would have to explore. But we would never engage or embark on the use of coal – at least that capacity of producing 1,000 megawatts – without our having the necessary consultations with the different stakeholders," he said.
Coal was once the prime source of power generation in many parts of the world, but over time this source of energy has lost ground as nuclear power, natural gas and – more recently – renewables have expanded their share of the region’s power mix. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 February 2017]
Photo: Jamaica’s Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.