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Gov't again explores possibility of aluminium production

BY CONRAD HAMILTON Observer senior reporter hamiltonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 27, 2012    

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NEARLY 40 years after the plan was touted in one of the several failed regional integration initiatives, the Government is again exploring whether aluminium can be produced in Jamaica.

However, this time around, the minister with responsibility for the mining and energy sector is far more optimistic, and has indicated that he will be providing additional information to the country by the end of September.

In the early 1970s, three prominent Caribbean leaders — Michael Manley of Jamaica, Guyana's Forbes Burnham and Trinidad and Tobago's Eric Williams — proposed the construction of a regional aluminium smelter in Trinidad, using alumina from Jamaica and Guyana and energy from the oil rich Trinidad and Tobago. However, the initiative never got off the ground.

But addressing Wednesday's Jamaica House press briefing, Mining and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell said that based on a range of developments on the local energy landscape the conversion of alumina to aluminium is now within the country's grasp.

"In keeping with the approach of the ministry — a ministry that is responsible for science, technology and innovation — we have to look at increasing the value to the goods and services that we produce and we therefore are focused on how to build more value in Jamaica, and with that in mind we are looking at the full range of mining opportunities to see how we can move to that ultimate level that we have been talking about for years," said Paulwell.

He said there was a need to focus less on primary products and more on products at the end of the production process. "I believe that by about the end of September I will be able to speak far more definitively in relation to the energy solution for the bauxite alumina industry that will enable us to ship less ore and more value added," said Paulwell.

The minister, speaking later with the Jamaica Observer, couldn't say whether Russian aluminium giant UC Rusal — the major player in the local bauxite alumina sector — would participate in such a venture. However, he disclosed that other players have expressed interest. "We are now very pleased that there are companies that are prepared to discuss with Jamaica, the matter of equity in aluminium production elsewhere, that's one opportunity, and we are going to follow that through. Also because we are moving to solve the energy problem we can entice businesses in this area to look now at Jamaica as a place where you can do the full range of processing," Paulwell explained.

While making the case for Jamaica to be engaged in aluminium production, the minister sent another signal to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) regarding the need for that company to embrace the Government's plan to fully liberalise the energy sector, a move Paulwell claimed would facilitate the entry of more electricity providers and which would also result in a reduction in energy costs.

He said that ongoing efforts to introduce Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) would ensure the availability of sufficient energy to power the proposed aluminium smelting operation.

Addressing Parliament on Tuesday, Paulwell, in a major announcement, disclosed that South Korean company Samsung had won the bid to develop Jamaica's infrastructure, primarily the offshore, floating regassification facility which will supply LNG to the JPS and to major users of electricity such as the country's bauxite alumina plants.

He also announced that the three companies that have been shortlisted to supply the LNG have until today to submit their bids.

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