US$3-B infrastructural upgrade coming with natural gas — Robertson

US$3-B infrastructural upgrade coming with natural gas — Robertson

Sunday, October 03, 2010

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ENERGY and Mining Minister James Robertson has said that the bauxite/alumina and energy sector will soon be bolstered by over US$3 billion in infrastructural upgrade catalysed by the country's foray into natural gas.

Breaking down the investment at a luncheon in recognition of Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners' first anniversary of operations in Jamaica, Robertson said the Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) infrastructure component was valued at approximately US$600 million, while some US$800 million would be expended on retooling within the country's five operational bauxite/alumina plants to make them more efficient. Some US$700 million was earmarked for the development of new generating capacity including renewable sources of energy, while around US$1.2 million was slated for increasing the efficiency and capacity of the national grid.

He made the announcement against the background of Noranda's recently announced US$150 million (J$140 billion) investment over the next five years in the bauxite sector, with the minister stating that Noranda's investment could double when natural gas becomes available at the "doorsteps of the industry".

"We are going to do this in less than 30 months as natural gas will add some 480 megawatts of new generating capacity for the sector enabling a possible doubling of the plant's capacity," said Robertson at the luncheon, held at the Jewel Dunn's River Resort and Spa in St Ann last week.

The Minister's optimism was shared by the Chairman and CEO of Noranda Aluminum Layle "Kip" Smith and president and general manager of Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners, Pansy Johnson. Noranda Aluminum, a US-based conglomerate, now holds 49 per cent of the shares formerly held by the St Ann Bauxite Mining Company with the Government of Jamaica owning 51 per cent.

Smith, in expressing his pride in the strong performance of the company in only one year of operations, noted that it had moved from "survival and renewal to growth in less than one year", while Johnson pointed to Noranda's success in moving its "investment in the business and communities back up to full capacity of some US$60 million annually".

Johnson also referred to other positive benchmarks, including successful negotiation of deferred wage increases, assistance to 150 students through scholarships, improving the infrastructure of a number of primary schools and the overall positive impact in local communities as a result of the firm's return to normal levels of production.

Noranda's five-year expansion plan includes major projects such as the dredging of the Discovery Bay pier and skills training to increase the productivity of its workforce.

The company undertook a major 'leap of faith' a year ago when it increased its shares in the then St Ann Bauxite Partners, while the majority of other local companies closed down due to falling demand and depressed prices.

Its confidence in the industry has paid off as the parent company reported an increase in bauxite production from 3.1 million tonnes to 4.6 million tonnes this year, as aluminum prices rebounded on the world market.

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