JULIAN Robinson — the minister of state in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining — has reaffirmed the Government’s openness to coal as a fuel option for Jamaica, despite opposition from local environmental lobbyists.
The minister insisted that while he understands the environmental concerns surrounding coal, there is a way to strike a balance between safeguarding the ecosystem and the economic future of Jamaica, which can be achieved, at least in part, by securing a cheaper fuel source than oil.
“There is a way to find a balance to have coal that is produced which takes into account environmental considerations, but we can’t sit down and rule out options and what I call ‘die by slow death’ because our energy costs are just too high,” he said.
Robinson was responding to questions at the launch of a Development Bank of Jamaica Greenbiz Energy Efficiency project at the Mona Visitors’ Lodge last Wednesday.
The environmental concerns surrounding coal include the potential for acid rain, increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which fuels global warming; and poor air quality which could undermine the island’s critical tourism industry.
Phillip Paulwell, the minister of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining, said in March that Jamaica could not afford to be purist about the environment when it came to energy. He argued that Jamaica did not have “the luxury of asserting a purist view” on the environment when it came to coal, given the island’s high oil bill. Alternatives, he maintained, must be found in order to ensure the success of industries, including bauxite/alumina, which is a major moneymaker for Jamaica.
At the time, environmental lobbyists came out against Paulwell’s statements, arguing that the potentially negative effects of adopting coal were too dire to ignore. But a week later, Minister of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill came out in support of Paulwell saying coal cannot be ruled out as an energy source.
He, too, alluded to the possibility of striking a balance between the use of coal to help meet Jamaica’s energy needs, in the interest of the island’s economic future, and the environmental concerns.
Last week, Robinson said that whenever permission is granted for a coal plant to be established, strict environmental considerations must be adhered to.
“It’s something which we are open to and which we have said to individuals, [as long as] you are adhering to the environmental regulations; yes, it is an option,” he told his audience.
Robinson added that the United States, for example, generates close to 50 per cent of its energy from coal while other developed countries continue to build coal plants.
He noted that the bauxite industry is most in need of this option, as most of the plants that have closed did so on account of energy costs amounting to up to 70 per cent of operating costs.