I am posting below a press release from the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), strongly opposing the construction of a 1000MW coal-fired power plant in Nain, St. Elizabeth. Such a large plant would cause untold harm in terms of pollution of the earth, sea and air – and consequently our own health. It would also greatly increase carbon emissions, in contradiction of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change that Jamaica recently signed. I will be writing more about this in subsequent blog posts. Let us stick with natural gas and renewables, as clearly stated in the Government’s Energy Policy. Coal is not the way to go!
August 3, 2016
Following the announcement of the sale of the old Alpart plant at Nain in St. Elizabeth to Jiuquan Iron & Steel (Group) Company Limited (JISCO) on July 19, 2016, Transport and Mining Minister, the Hon. Mike Henry announced a US$2 billion investment by the new owners at a press conference held last week. Minister Henry also revealed that this new industrial development would be powered by a 1000MW coal-fired plant. Energy, Science & Technology Minster, the Hon. Andrew Wheatley qualified what Minister Henry said by stating that the Government of Jamaica is “looking at” coal as the source of energy. Both Ministers were at pains to assure the public that the environment would be protected.
The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) strongly opposes a coal plant of this scale for Jamaica due to the harm to human health and climate posed by coal-fired power plants.
The pollutants from coal-fired plants that pose significant risks to human health are sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and particulate matter. Sulphur dioxide is a trigger for asthma attacks and combines with water vapour to form acid rain – which will also affect crops and soil health in the farming parish of St. Elizabeth and beyond. Nitrogen oxides are a precursor to smog and increase the likelihood of respiratory ailments such as wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis. Mercury is a neurotoxin associated with irreversible IQ deficits and neurobehavioral pathologies. Particulate matter, also called PM or soot, consists of microscopically small solid particles or liquid droplets suspended in the air. The smaller the particles, the deeper they can penetrate into the respiratory system and the more hazardous they are. There is a robust association between daily rates of human mortality and levels of particulate matter even when levels are below air quality guidelines. Emissions of these pollutants can be reduced with modern equipment, but this type of coal plant is not cheap to build and does not produce cheap electricity.
JET has spent many years monitoring the effectiveness of environmental management and enforcement in Jamaica and we assert that the environmental regulatory framework in Jamaica is neither capable of nor willing to compel large foreign investors to comply with their environmental permits and licenses. JET has collected ample evidence of this over decades. In fact, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) still states that it relies on “voluntary compliance” from investors – a strategy which has demonstrably failed.
The harm to the earth’s climate caused by emissions from coal-fired plants cannot be avoided at this stage of technology development. There are projects to capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2) underway and a few plants have already been built, all with massive government subsidies. This is experimental and extremely expensive technology and there is almost no chance it will be employed in Jamaica.
Goal No. 3 of Jamaica’s National Energy Policy, promulgated by a Jamaica Labour Party government in 2009 states: Jamaica realizes its energy resource potential through the development of renewable energy sources and enhances its international competitiveness, energy security whilst reducing its carbon footprint.
A modern coal-fired plant emits 762 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, if there is no CO2 capture. This plant alone would emit roughly 6.7 million tons of CO2 per year, just over half of our 2025 target under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which we signed on Earth Day 2016. Meeting our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to greenhouse gas emissions under this Agreement would become virtually impossible. Further, the planned energy matrix in the National Energy Policy calls for only 5% petcoke/coal – another case of the Government ignoring its own policy documents.
A coal-fired plant uses large amounts of water, which either has to come from the sea or fresh water supplies. Nain is not close to the sea – is the water to come from the aquifer under water-stressed St. Elizabeth? The Black River? This plant will lock us into an unsustainable and harmful source of energy for at least 50 years.
JET calls on the portfolio minister of the environment, the Prime Minister, to rethink this harmful project. Economic growth in Jamaica can and should be powered mainly by natural gas and renewables, as called for by the National Energy Policy.
CEO, Jamaica Environment Trust