Want­ing to hear from the Gov’t about Al­part

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

THREE MONTHS ago, not long af­ter China’s Jin­quan Iron and Steel Com­pany for­malised its ac­qui­si­tion of the Al­part alu­mina re­fin­ery in Nain, St El­iz­a­beth, we urged an open and frank and very pub­lic cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis of Jin­quan’s plans for the fa­cil­ity, es­pe­cially with re­spect to the fuel the new own­ers in­tend to use to gen­er­ate power.

The mat­ter, we felt, was ur­gent and that Ja­maica, if re­quired, should re­cruit ex­per­tise from abroad to help in this ef­fort. We still hold those views. Fur­ther, we are con­cerned that the Gov­ern­ment doesn’t ap­pear to be seized of the same ur­gency we feel on this mat­ter. Two de­vel­op­ments re­cently have forced this mat­ter back on the agenda. One is the sug­ges­tion, based on the re­cent re­port­ing by this news­pa­per, that arms of the Gov­ern­ment in mak­ing de­ci­sions on the Jin­quan project were not crit­i­cally ap­ply­ing their minds to the is­sue.

For in­stance, Peter Knight, the CEO of the Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment and Plan­ning Agency (NEPA), a mem­ber of which agency went to China as ob­server at the sign­ing of the agree­ment be­tween Jin­quan and Al­part’s for­mer own­ers, UC Rusal, made clear that NEPA had not yet re­ceived a re­quest for per­mis­sion to es­tab­lish a coal plant at the re­fin­ery.

The pres­ence of NEPA of­fi­cials in China, he stressed, was not to “give any ad­vice” or to par­tic­i­pate in the ne­go­ti­a­tions. “(We) only went to look at what peo­ple were talk­ing about as a (coal) plant,” Mr Knight said.

There a num­ber of ob­ser­va­tions on this point. First is that, based on all the pub­lic dec­la­ra­tions about the Al­part re­fin­ery, coal is cen­tral to what Jin­quan wants to do there. First, it in­tends to mod­ernise and ex­pand the alu­mina refin­ing ca­pac­ity by 30 per cent to 2.1 mil­lion tonnes, which is of it­self a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment. An ef­fi­ciently op­er­at­ing plant would em­ploy hun­dreds of peo­ple, and on the ba­sis of ex­port­ing alu­mina only, would add around US$500 mil­lion an­nu­ally to the econ­omy.

But, Jin­quan doesn’t want to limit it­self to refin­ing alu­mina. It has pro­posed smelt­ing alu­minium and rolling and ex­trud­ing iron and steel. That, if it hap­pens, would add hun­dreds more jobs. But these pro­cesses re­quire huge amounts of en­ergy, and that en­ergy has to be cheap for the busi­ness to be prof­itable.

TECH­NO­LOG­I­CAL SO­LU­TIONS

Jin­quan’s so­lu­tion to the en­ergy prob­lem is to use coal. It pro­poses a 1,000-megawatt coal­fired plant, which is about 20 per cent more than Ja­maica’s cur­rent in­stalled elec­tric­i­ty­gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity and over 40 per cent higher than peak elec­tric­ity de­mand. The prob­lem is that coal usu­ally comes with negative en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, which Jin­quan be­lieves it has the tech­nol­ogy to over­come.

The ab­sence of a gov­ern­ment nar­ra­tive on Jin­quan’s ideas is hap­pen­ing against last week’s con­ver­sion by Ja­maica Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­pany of its 120-megawatt power plant in St James from oil to nat­u­ral gas, with sim­i­lar plans for a 190 MW plant planned for Old Har­bour. Gas is not as cheap as coal, but is less ex­pen­sive than oil. And it is cleaner.

It doesn’t re­quire a for­mal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment to be lodged with NEPA be­fore the Gov­ern­ment be­gins to share its own think­ing with the pub­lic.

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