Opposition questions push for LNG, CNG in JUTC buses

Opposition questions push for LNG, CNG in JUTC buses

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, November 21, 2019

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OPPOSITION spokesman on transport Mikael Phillips is questioning the Government's decision to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) in the public transport sector as it pushes to complete an electric vehicle policy.

The policy is one of two priority sub-policies that are being pursued under the National Energy Policy, which is now being updated, and will target large units with emphasis on Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses.

“My research showed that CNG and LNG are not widely used in public transport, so why then would the only Government entity that supplies public transport go that way, when our funding agencies are suggesting another route?” Phillips asked at Tuesday's meeting of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Principal director in the energy division of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, Fitzroy Vidal, sought to allay Phillips's concern, which emerged as the PAC examined the auditor general's performance audit report on the Government's progress towards diversification of energy supply and affordable clean energy — components of the national development plan Vision 2030 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, respectively.

“We must bear in mind that technology is always developing...what wasn't possible recently is becoming more and more possible. For example, we are told that electric buses cannot travel certain terrain, recently, coming back from a tour of an electric mobility transport sector, and that just throws everything out the window — it depends on how you approach it,” Vidal said.

The JUTC, in August, issued a request for proposal for 10 routes in Portmore, St Catherine, with specification for 100 units inclusive of electric, LNG- and CNG-powered vehicles as part of efforts to fill the commuter demand gap.

The State-owned bus company's Managing Director Paul Abrahams told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday that none of the respondents were selected, as the “situation is being assessed” to go back to tender shortly. The electric units would have been a first for the public transportation system, he had said in August.

In response to Phillips's concern, he emphasised that: “CNG and LNG have been widely used across transport sectors throughout many countries and that's a fact.”

Abrahams said the JUTC's thrust for fuel diversification includes electric units, biodiesel and CNG, as fuel remains one of its primary expenses.

“Our primary objective is to move commuters, and there is a shortfall, so we have to figure out a solution,” he said.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) — Jamaica's funding partner in the development of a strategic framework for electric mobility — some of the main barriers of electric and hybrid bus technologies are high upfront investments; perception of high risk, especially in relation to battery storage; and limited number of suppliers to provide local aftersales service. It also notes in a report that the battery system represents at least half of the total cost of electric buses.

Meanwhile, ministry officials pointed out that although the focus will be on JUTC's fleet, as the largest consumer of fuel in the public sector, the haulage industry, the military and police are some of the other areas that will be targeted.

The IDB is funding the strategic framework document to assist with multi-stakeholder consultation on transitioning from fossil fuels to electric vehicles, not only for the JUTC, but for all of the government's fleet.

Permanent Secretary in the the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, Carol Palmer, emphasised to the PAC that “it's a structured approach that we are going to be taking...there are several elements to the electric mobility agenda, it will be policies to deal with the various elements of what we have to do...We have also learnt that there are some makers of vehicles who will no longer be making fossil fuel vehicles as of 2030. Jamaica doesn't wish to be the dumping ground for these vehicles”.

The electricity mobility policy is being pursued in two phases, with completion of the policy set for the next fiscal year. The strategic electric mobility framework, which will inform the policy, is to be finalised by next month, Vidal said. He also noted that additional policies will be necessary for associated components, such as charging stations.

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