Dr Deju Nation – ”No Coal-Fired Power Plant On Jamrock”

Dr Deju Nation

Since acquiring UC Rusal’s Alpart assets on July 19, 2016, the Chinese Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO) is seeking to complete a deal that seems to have been in the pipeline as far back as 2014. 

It is evident that this is a strong attempt by our island’s leaders to find creative ways to revive a dying bauxite/alumina sector.

It is also true that this investment may provide a strong platform for the restoration of economic activity in the Nain community, its environs and for general growth in the Jamaican economy.

However, approaching this hugely impactive project without a thorough consensual analysis of the long-term environmental and health-related effects by all our important stakeholders could be akin to taking one step forward and two steps back.

Though I will seek to be objective and optimistic about this developmental project, I do have some serious questions to ask:

1. Does consensus exist between the current Government and important agencies such as National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica in relation to the entire scope of this project (not just the construction of the power plant)?

Have these agencies thoroughly addressed the project and given it the green light, having done their own environmental impact assessment? If so, where is the transparent divulgence of these findings to members of the Jamaican public?

Let us all note that NEPA’s role as stated in its vision statement is to ensure “that Jamaica’s natural resources are being used in a sustainable way and that there is broad understanding of environmental planning and development issues, with extensive participation amongst citizens and a high level of compliance to relevant legislation”. I am particularly waiting to see how “extensively the citizenry will be engaged by NEPA in this planning process”, and how much “compliance there will be with legislation”. The citizens of this country, especially those who will be living in and around the proposed plant development, must be especially vigilant that the interests of a few foreign investors are not placed above theirs. It is so very easy for things to go exactly that way.


2. Will the power plant really be coal-fired?

It has been widely reported that the proposed fuel source for this 1,000-MW electric power plant will be coal, and most likely Chinese coal. Although key leaders in our governmental organisations may think there are no major environmental risks, or that these risks may be effectively managed — and that coal is the last lifeline available to an ailing bauxite/alumina sector and one which needs to be grabbed with both hands — I ask that we think very carefully and critically, especially about the project’s long-term implications on Jamaicans, our frail health care system, social safety nets, and the environment.

In an era where developed countries are moving towards rapid deployment of renewable technologies and the use of cleaner fossil fuels such as natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG), this action would be a very retrograde step for Jamaica. The UK, for example, is phasing out all coal-fired plants by 2025. Germany is planning for 100 per cent power from renewables by 2050, having “less than half” of Jamaica’s daily solar insolation.

Though coal is the cheapest and most energy-dense of the available fossil fuels, it is a dirty fuel and a source of dangerous air pollution. The flue (exhaust) gases associated with its combustion are known to be especially high in particulates, mercury, SO2 and NOx, emissions a perfect recipe for acid rain destruction of the unique flora and fauna in our Jamaican watersheds and for respiratory problems in residents living within the neighbourhood of any such plant. Without chemical treatment of the pulverised feedstock used in the combustion process, or the use of some form of “clean coal” technology within this process, we could be setting up ourselves for disaster.

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Further, the electrical name plate capacity of the plant (1,000 MW) by world standards is large. Bearing in mind the tiny size of this country, any adverse environmental effects arising from this project could be disastrous. Drax Power Station, which I had the privilege of visiting in 2010, is the UK’s largest coal-fired power plant (and the second largest in Europe) and is only 3.9 times greater in size. The Drax Power Station is now in the process of converting all its coal units into biomass (renewable power) powered units, in keeping with modern global environmental stewardship. What in the world are we then thinking in Jamaica?!

3. If the proposed plant were really to be coal-fired, then what kind of combustion technology and feedstock will be used?

A JISCO coal-fired plant is highly likely to import cheap Chinese coal for use in its generation. Combustion of Chinese coal in the various power plants through mainland China has resulted in severe health and environmental problems. The news publications on record in the print and electronic media are there for all of us to see with a simple online search.

The World Bank has reported that smog and related air pollution alone kills close to one million Chinese nationals each year, largely due to cancer and other respiratory-related illnesses. That is over one-third of Jamaica’s local population!

The Chinese fishing industry and local wildlife have also been severely affected by acidification of ground and underground water sources associated with toxic SO2, NOx and mercury emissions from Chinese coal-fired plants. Despite the fact that China is a socialist state, widespread protests from local residents in recent years has forced many proposed coal plant developments to be abandoned by the Chinese Government. It is a crime against humanity for any Government (socialist or democratic) to put the interest of industrialists and foreign investors above the health and well-being of its citizens. This must not be allowed to happen in Jamaica.

In recent years, “clean coal” technologies such as supercritical pulverised fuel, pressurised fluidised bed combustion, oxy-fuel combustion and integrated gasification combined cycle — where coal is converted into a synthesis gas (Syngas) before combustion — have been in use in more modern power plants to reduce harmful emissions, improve combustion efficiencies and reduce the CO2 content of flue gases. There is also carbon capture and sequestering, where CO2 is removed from flue gases, compressed, and piped to storage containers for later sequestering into deep underground rock formations such as depleted oil and gas fields. These technologies are expensive and highly unlikely to be used by JISCO in any proposed coal plant.

What’s more is that they are largely unused in China, which has led to the current pollution nightmare. Let us not therefore expect them to be used in a small and spatially insignificant developing island nation — Jamaica — by foreign investors whose sole business objective is to make the biggest bucks at the lowest cost.

According to Robin Eves, CEO of Clean Coal Technologies USA, “2016 will see more coal burned globally to generate power than any other year, particularly in developing nations.” Did we hear that? Yes, in “developing nations”. It is evident that as the world’s developed economies move away from coal-powered generation, there will be an increasing thrust to offload their coal and coal power technologies to developing countries like ours. Jamaica must not become a dump yard for rejected coal products or environmentally harmful coal technology.

4. Will Jamaica rescind its global commitments under the 2015 COP21 agreement?

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In the December 2015, at the COP21 meeting of global nation states in Paris, Jamaica outlined its commitment to protecting the environment, especially through the aggressive adoption of clean and renewable energy technologies. Our country even employed the services of the reputable National Renewable Energy Laboratory, USA, in developing a coherent action plan to this end. How will Jamaica justify to the international community its decision to build such a mammoth fossil-fired power plant on our tiny island using the dirtiest and most harmful of all power-generation fuel sources available, while knowing full well the dire consequences posed to its nationals and to the Jamaican environment?

Alternative

Having asked these important questions, for which I patiently wait to see answers emerge in the coming weeks, I will put forward one solution for examination by our decision-makers. The Chinese could construct an LNG-fired power plant at some convenient site at Port Kaiser, with the generated power dispatched up to the Alpart plant over approximately 12+ km of high voltage 138KVA (or higher) transmission lines (Figure 1) to a substation at Nain.

Consequently, the current LNG purchase agreement that both Jamaica Public Service and the Jamaican Government have negotiated with New Fortress Energy and Golar LNG limited could be then expanded, amended, or renegotiated to include Golar Artic’s service to the Kaiser power plant terminal, in addition to servicing the Bogue and Old Harbour terminals. This would also mean more business for New Fortress Energy and its Golar LNG partner, which could make for a more lucrative LNG deal. All the above could be the subject of future engineering design and cost-benefit analysis by qualified technical personnel available to the energy minister.

Jamaica, like no other nation its size on Earth, is blessed with amazing biodiversity, beautiful beaches, amazing flora and fauna, which provide us with a tourism product that is world-class. Let us protect it! A 1,000-MW coal-fired plant burning Chinese coal (especially chemically untreated coal and using standard coal combustion technology) will not only kill our wildlife and damage our tourism product, but will also kill us Jamaicans as well.

We cannot sit by and ineptly watch any form of unsustainable development take place, for we will pay dearly for it in the long run, especially the unborn generations. This project can only be allowed to proceed if the critical power source issues are addressed in a manner that is sustainable to this nation. May God give our leaders, especially our prime minister and his Cabinet, the vision and political will to do what is right for all Jamaicans and for our beautiful island paradise. God bless Jamrock!
It is now public knowledge that plans could be on the agenda for building Jamaica’s first-ever aluminium smelter at the site of the Alpart alumina plant in Nain, St Elizabeth. Owing to the general rapacious appetite of aluminium smelters for electricity, the Nain plant is purported to be powered by a huge 1-billion Watt (1,000 MW) coal-fired power plant, 1.1 times greater than the size of Jamaica’s entire 884 MW electric grid! 

dnation@ncu.edu.jm

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