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Coal Fire!

Environmentalist slams planned use of fossil fuel to power Goat Island project

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor - features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 26, 2014    

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THE Government’s announcement yesterday that China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC) will be building a coal-fired electricity generating plant to service operations at the proposed Goat Islands port drew fire from one of the country’s foremost environmental organisations.

According to CEO of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) Diana McCaulay the decision, was inconsistent with the Government’s draft climate change policy which speaks to reducing the country’s risk to climate-related hazards by mitigating the effects to different sectors of society.

“Coal is the dirtiest of all the fossil fuels, so there are emissions of mercury, arsenic, ash, a long list of them, and it is also the main greenhouse gas; the main gas that causes global climate change,” McCaulay said when contacted by the Jamaica Observer.

“I don’t know how that fits in with a country that claims to be concerned about climate change to the point where it has a climate change ministry,” she said.

Earlier in the Parliament, minister of transport, works and housing, Omar Davies said that “Given the high cost of electricity in Jamaica, CHEC proposes to establish its own coalfired generating plant to provide lower cost electricity for the project.”

Davies, who was presenting longawaited details of the controversial project being planned as part of the Government’s logistics hub, did not speak to the capacity of the plant, but said CHEC and the Port Authority of Jamaica had arrived at an Initial Framework Agreement outlining the general terms and conditions under which the discussions will continue.

Coal, like oil and natural gas, is a fossil fuel. It causes air pollution in the form of soot, smog, acid rain, ash and waste heat and is said to be the main culprit in global warming.

Referencing a fire at the Riverton landfill yesterday, McCaulay argued that Jamaica has “no kind of track record of being able to handle these kinds of waste”.

McCaulay, who has been among those leading the opposition to the location of a trans-shipment port on Goat Islands, which sits within the Portland Bight Protected Area, also criticised Davies’ claims that the decision was arrived at after consultation with various groups.

“The minister’s statement said he had consulted with specifically Old Harbour. I called a few people this afternoon and none of them had been to any such consultation. Mr Davies said he had consulted with the environment protection agencies — that’s what he called them. I have had no consultation on this matter,” she said.

McCaulay said she had a meeting in November last year with chairman and CEO of the Port Authority of Jamaica — the Government agency leading the negotiations — where it was agreed that a “proper consultation” was necessary. It was, however, never held, she told the Observer.

She conceded that while a single investment in coal won’t put Jamaica on equal footing with China in terms of the Asian country’s high air pollution level, China’s “unwillingness to abide by environmental laws”, coupled with the Jamaican Government’s less than energetic approach to enforcing environmental laws is a “fairly concerning combination”.

According to Davies, phase one of the port project will also include:

• Dredging and land reclamation activities to create the port and suitable access channel to the port;

• Construction and development of berths of sufficient width, length and depth to accommodate Super Post-Panamax vessels;

• The layout, construction and development of the Portside Logistics Zone in the immediate proximity of the port, to include warehouses and such other commercial buildings or facilities as may be necessary;

• The development of an industrial park which will carry out operations associated with storage, assembling and packaging of goods in light and heavy industries; information technology; and skills training;

• The laying and developing of infrastructure facilities to include bridge(s), roads and drives within the project area; pipelines and water storage facilities; sewer lines and sewage treatment facilities; electricity transmission lines and electricity generation facilities; cable transmission lines; and similar services and facilities contemplated for the project; and

• The construction and development of a container terminal with modern fittings, technology and services.

Davies said that “only after the completion of the EIA will the project be ready to be submitted to Cabinet for a decision” and before a Binding and Definitive Framework Agreement. In addition, he said “there are a number of issues” which have to be addressed before that agreement is inked, such as the acquisition of lands currently owned by the Urban Development Corporation and the Ministry of Agriculture at Agro-Invest and Innswood Estates, the imminent repeal of the Free zone Act in 2015 to facilitate the creation of Commercial Economic Zones, and reviewing applicable laws, policy and procedure “in light of possible request for citizenship from investors within the project area”.

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