ENERGY MINISTER Andrew Wheatley has sought to quiet ongoing concerns over reports that the new Chinese owners of ALPART, Jiuguan Iron and Steel, are looking to set up a 1,000-megawatt coal plant in Jamaica to support their operations.
“Where we are right now, we have not received any application, any proposal, as it relates to a coal-fired plant at ALPART. What we know for a fact is that the new owners are rehabilitating, retrofitting the old ALPART facility,” he told The Gleaner on the sidelines of the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF) in The Bahamas on Tuesday.
“The plan is for them to use the traditional source of fuel – HFO – to drive that bauxite facility. We expect that facility to be up and running in another 16 to 18 months, starting to produce bauxite and employing Jamaicans,” he added.
“I don’t want to speak for them, but I know they are exploring other sources of energy, separate and apart from coal,” Wheatley said further.
At the same time, the minister suggested that this ministry would not readily entertain any such application.
“The truth is that coal is a part of our energy policy, a part of that mix. But if we are to embark on such a direction, it would have to be after serious consultation. We would have to ensure that there is some technology that would, more or less, mitigate against the negative environmental impacts associated with coal in the past,” he noted.
“So there is a clean-coal technology being mooted. That is something that we would have to explore. But we would never engage or embark on the use of coal – at least that capacity of producing 1,000 megawatts – without our having the necessary consultations with the different stakeholders,” he said.
News of the 1,000-megawatt plant accompanied the sale of ALPART to Jiuguan last year. The construction of such a plant would exceed Jamaica’s current generating capacity of some 800 megawatts while threatening to undermine efforts to treat with climate change, which prompted outcry from among civil society actors.
The minister’s statements on what would need to happen regarding any coal project, meanwhile, are in line with what the Council of the Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals called for last August.
“We look forward to seeing the holistic analysis on the full economic costs and benefits for the chosen source of energy, including the lifetime costs of energy production, the cost of treatment of pollutant emissions and effluent, the cost of any investment or operation costs for ensuring compliance with all relevant national environmental and working standards,” the entity said.
“This analysis should include critical factors such as the economic cost of health effects and medical treatment from exposure to plant emissions and effluent on workers and communities surrounding the plant,” the council added.
Ultimately, like a number of other civil society actors, it concluded: “It is our position that a coal-fired plant is counter-productive to Jamaica’s own Vision 2030 and our other commitments on energy, sustainable development, and climate change,” it said.
“We hasten to point out that there is a cost associated with sourcing and transportation of coal from overseas; the potential impact on human health, including long-term treatment; and the cost of ensuring that all relevant national standards are met,” they added.
The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) is preparing for a battle with the Government over any attempt to review its operating licence.
The JPS was put on its guard last Friday when Government senator and chief technical adviser to the finance minister, Aubyn Hill, declared that the Andrew Holness-led administration is obliged to review the licence of the light and power company because of threats to the Jamaican economy.
Opening the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate, Hill called for a review of the modified licence issued to JPS last January, because it “seems to be quite opposed to the interest of Jamaicans”.
“We have to look at that licence carefully [and] as a new Government, we’re obliged to,” Hill told his parliamentary colleagues.
But Kelly Tomblin, the president and chief executive officer of the JPS, in a quick response, rejected Hill’s reasons for questioning the changes to the licence and expressed the hope that his comments would not suggest that Holness will shred the contract.
“I’m sure, similar to how the Government has continued on the framework for fuel diversity, that this Government certainly wouldn’t suggest that a licence negotiated in good faith, in which the JPS has made investments, would be negated by a subsequent government,” said Tomblin.
“Surely, he’s (Hill) not suggesting that,” added Tomblin.
In his Senate presentation, Hill argued that he was making the call from his position as a senator.
“Because I may have some influence on policy, I do not lose my right as a senator to bring up independent issues. My position is quite different from a recommendation, and if I gave a recommendation I probably would not be speaking on it publicly,” said Hill.
The international banker argued that the replacement of the price cap regime with the revenue cap in the licence “could dampen economic growth” because JPS’s growth is no longer tied to that of the economy.
“A good argument can be made that the revenue cap approach blunts any incentive on JPS’s part to support the expansion of renewable sources of energy or to improve efficiencies in their current business,” said Hill, who is the chairman of Innovative Renewable Energy & Electronics Limited.
He said giving the JPS the right of first refusal to replace generating plants due for retirement entrenches the company’s near-monopoly and is inconsistent with international standards and Jamaica’s national energy policy.
Tomblin rejected those claims, arguing that Hill was making “inaccurate conclusions”.
“We negotiated with the Government for our licence amendments that we believe serve the country. We have about 31 guaranteed standards that are monitored by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR).
“Our overriding goal is to support economic growth. This (Hill’s arguments) requires a more fulsome discussion with the utility,” said Tomblin.
Hill’s call came days after the OUR announced new regulation which should give it more power to monitor the operations of the JPS and other entities which generate or supply electricity.
The regulation will govern the operational standards and established procedures for handling the generation, transmission, distribution, supply and dispatch of electricity across the island.
According to the OUR, the regulation adopts five grid codes, which are generation, transmission, distribution, supply, and dispatch.
“The codes, which were finalised in August 2016, have been developed in parallel, and are designed to be used in conjunction with each other,” said the OUR.
Petra Systems and FosRich Group of Companies in partnership with Philips Lighting, are the companies selected to spearhead the initiative, which the JPS plans to roll out across the country, starting this year.
Following the selection of the LED vendors, the next step for the energy company is to identify suitable entities for the installation of the lighting fixtures, as well as provision and management of the smart features. Its target is a total of 110,000 street lights, with consumers, the company and the entire country set to benefit.
“In addition to lowering energy costs and improving energy efficiency, smart street lights can facilitate the smart technology to support crime fighting, through the use of image sensing (including allowing for closed-circuit television),” chief technology officer, JPS, Gary Barrow, explained in a press release, hinting also at positive environmental spin-offs. “Smart street lights will also reduce the carbon emissions from power consumption.”
Other benefits of the smart street light system include its ability to detect and report light failure per location; report maintenance and repairs of lights; as well as measure and report energy usage per lamp. The street light system will be managed by a control centre that will facilitate ease of monitoring and other aspects of management.
The JPS recently retrofitted 330 streetlights in the New Kingston area with LED lights, as part of its Smart City pilot. The next phase of the project involves the addition of intelligent controls to the LED fixtures for the maintenance and controls of the lights in the area. The smart street lights are the first phase of several technologies that will be deployed to make New Kingston one of the first smart cities in the Caribbean. The smart street light initiative is one of Jamaica’s largest energy efficiency projects and will be rolled out from 2017-2020.
The effort to mainstream gender in climate change considerations while cementing the place of women in decision-making in that arena has a supporter in Dr James Fletcher, recent head of the CARICOM Task Force on Sustainable Development.
“Women are disproportionately affected by climate change, particularly in small-island developing states. Anytime here in Saint Lucia, if there is a drought, the people you see going miles to collect water are not the men, it is the women because they are the ones who, unfortunately, have the children on their hands and the household on their hands,” he noted.
“So women are always the ones who are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, and I think there must be some sensitivity in funding to the fact that there is a gender imbalance in the impacts of climate change and other natural disasters,” Fletcher added.
He was speaking with journalists at the Marrakech Climate Talks in November last year on the issue of a lack of funding to support the gender work programme that emerged from the Lima Climate Talks two years earlier.
Decisions in that work programme include:
– To enhance the implementation of the decision to promote gender balance and improve the participation of women in United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations and in the representation of parties in bodies established in line with the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol; and
– that additional efforts be made by parties to the convention to improve the participation of women in their delegations and in all of the bodies established under the convention.
Among other things, it also invites parties to advance gender balance and promote gender sensitivity in developing and implementing climate policy and achieve gender-responsive climate policy in all relevant activities under the UNFCCC.
However, in Marrakech – as in Lima – it emerged that financing to achieve the provisions of the work programme is a challenge.
Fletcher’s advice to the women and gender constituency is to press ahead with their efforts.
“The thing with some of these discussions is it takes a while for common sense to prevail. So things you think people would get immediately, they don’t, and you must have a lot of back and forth. But I think that is the nature of the multilateral process. People come with different agendas, different perspectives,” he said.
“It really speaks to the need to continue having faith in the process, to continue pressing the line, and continue developing a coalition and seeking out allies and seeing how you can get support,” added Fletcher, who is also the former sustainable development minister for Saint Lucia.
He revealed that this is what had happened in the small island developing states’ effort to have the world take up the issue of loss and damage associated with climate change.
“When we started out with loss and damage, loss and damage was quintessentially a small-island state issue, and then suddenly, other people realised ok, there is a lot of merit in this, and we started developing allies and having more people come and support our cause,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that on a gender issue you need to go in that way because you figure anybody should realise that is an issue. But I think, probably, it is one of these areas where we need to do more work and where we need to do more sensitisation and make people understand the imperative of making sure that the funding is gender sensitive,” Fletcher noted.
As of January 1, 2017 the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology took over responsibility for applications for net billing, electric power wheeling and auxiliary connections.
Information about the new arrangements, posted on the ministry website, comes after a period of uncertainty characterised by legislative changes, delays and temporary arrangements.
Minister of Science, Energy and Technology
Dr Andrew Wheatley announced in April 2016 that the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) would resume accepting applications on behalf of the ministry for net billing. This would be under similar terms as the previously concluded net billing pilot project, which ran for two years until May 2015. Up to that time, the ministry had received 351 applications for net billing, of which 311 were approved.
Net billing allows persons who produce electricity from renewable sources such as wind or solar to sell the excess to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), thus offsetting the electricity consumed when they use power from the grid. The OUR was charged with the responsibility for continuing to accept applications until the details of a permanent programme were finalised.
Public education specialist at the OUR, Elizabeth Bennett Marsh, says that with changes to some aspects of the legislation, the responsibility for approving net billing was passed back to the ministry.
“There was a brief hiatus where we had stopped accepting because we said we really wanted to get everything clarified. The ministry subsequently asked the OUR to continue accepting applications. So we agreed to continue until they could sort it out, and now that it has been completed we handed over,” Bennett Marsh said.
According to the information on the ministry”s website, “All persons who are desirous of connecting to the Jamaica Public Service grid are required to obtain a licence from the minister with responsibility for energy. The Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, therefore, advises the public that, effective January 1, 2017, all applications for net billing, electric power wheeling and auxiliary connections are to be made directly to the ministry.”
The ministry declined to comment by telephone on the new requirement and did not respond to emailed questions up to press time.
JPS Director of Corporate Communications Winsome Callum said the light and power company was aware of the changes and stood ready to do its part in adding new systems to the grid.
“This new development came out of the review of the net billing process in 2015. It was decided that the ministry would start accepting applications as of January 2017.
“JPS will continue its role in facilitating the contracts and the commissioning of the systems. We will continue our efforts to ensure that the connections are made as seamlessly and as quickly as possible,” Callum said in a written response.
Solar power is now cheaper than coal in some parts of the world. In less than a decade, it’s likely to be the lowest-cost option almost everywhere.
In 2016, countries from Chile to the United Arab Emirates broke records with deals to generate electricity from sunshine for less than 3 cents a kilowatt-hour, half the average global cost of coal power. Now, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Mexico are planning auctions and tenders for this year, aiming to drop prices even further. Taking advantage: Companies such as Italy’s Enel SpA and Dublin’s Mainstream Renewable Power, who gained experienced in Europe and now seek new markets abroad as subsidies dry up at home.
Since 2009, solar prices are down 62 percent, with every part of the supply chain trimming costs. That’s help cut risk premiums on bank loans, and pushed manufacturing capacity to record levels. By 2025, solar may be cheaper than using coal on average globally, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“These are game-changing numbers, and it’s becoming normal in more and more markets,” said Adnan Amin, International Renewable Energy Agency ’s director general, an Abu Dhabi-based intergovernmental group. “Every time you double capacity, you reduce the price by 20 percent.”
Better technology has been key in boosting the industry, from the use of diamond-wire saws that more efficiently cut wafers to better cells that provide more spark from the same amount of sun. It’s also driven by economies of scale and manufacturing experience since the solar boom started more than a decade ago, giving the industry an increasing edge in the competition with fossil fuels.
The average 1 megawatt-plus ground mounted solar system will cost 73 cents a watt by 2025 compared with $1.14 now, a 36 percent drop, said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis for New Energy Finance.
That’s in step with other forecasts.
The solar supply chain is experiencing “a Wal-Mart effect” from higher volumes and lower margins, according to Sami Khoreibi, founder and chief executive officer of Enviromena Power Systems, an Abu Dhabi-based developer.
The speed at which the price of solar will drop below coal varies in each country. Places that import coal or tax polluters with a carbon price, such as Europe and Brazil, will see a crossover in the 2020s, if not before. Countries with large domestic coal reserves such as India and China will probably take longer.
Coal industry officials point out that cost comparisons involving renewables don’t take into account the need to maintain backup supplies that can work when the sun doesn’t shine or wind doesn’t blow. When those other expenses are included, coal looks more economical, even around 2035, said Benjamin Sporton, chief executive officer of the World Coal Association.
“All advanced economies demand full-time electricity,” Sporton said. “Wind and solar can only generate part-time, intermittent electricity. While some renewable technologies have achieved significant cost reductions in recent years, it’s important to look at total system costs.”
Even so, solar’s plunge in price is starting to make the technology a plausible competitor.
In China, the biggest solar market, will see costs falling below coal by 2030, according to New Energy Finance. The country has surpassed Germany as the nation with the most installed solar capacity as the government seeks to increase use to cut carbon emissions and boost home consumption of clean energy. Yet curtailment remains a problem, particularly in sunnier parts of the country as congestion on the grid forces some solar plants to switch off.
Sunbelt countries are leading the way in cutting costs, though there’s more to it than just the weather. The use of auctions to award power-purchase contracts is forcing energy companies to compete with each other to lower costs.
An August auction in Chile yielded a contract for 2.91 cents a kilowatt-hour. In September, a United Arab Emirates auction grabbed headlines with a bid of 2.42 cents a kilowatt-hour. Developers have been emboldened to submit lower bids by expectations that the cost of the technology will continue to fall.
“We’re seeing a new reality where solar is the lowest-cost source of energy, and I don’t see an end in sight in terms of the decline in costs,” said Enviromena’s Khoreibi.
HEAD OF the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Hoesung Lee has urged attention and focus on the science and not politics in decision-making about climate change.
“One common question (at the Marrakech climate talks held recently in Morocco) was whether political developments in some countries could hinder the global community in providing a science-based response to climate change. My view, the scientists’ view, is that values and political beliefs may vary, but science is the common ground where these conflicting views can find a common understanding,” he said.
Lee was speaking in Jamaica recently where the IPCC the international body that assesses the science related to climate change held its most recent outreach event for the region and which formed a part of Climate Change Awareness Week celebrations on the island.
His comments come even as the world waits to see what the new United States (US) President and climate sceptic, Donald Trump, will do.
The US, up to now, has been one of the more significant contributors to the work of the IPCC, for example, and has done much to bolster global adaptation and mitigation efforts.
According to Lee, the science has so far revealed the need for urgent action on climate change.
“Responding to climate change is not an either/or choice for a country, it’s part of its development strategy. You all know that,” he said, while referencing the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).
The synthesis report of the AR5 points, among other things, to ongoing and exacerbated warming of the planet due to human actions.
“Emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributed about 78 per cent of the total GHG emissions increase from 1970 to 2010, with a similar percentage contribution for the increase during the period 2000 to 2010,” reads a section of the report.
“Globally, economic and population growth continued to be the most important drivers of increases in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion,” it added.
“The contribution of population growth between 2000 and 2010 remained roughly identical to the previous three decades while the contribution of economic growth has risen sharply,” the document said further.
In the wake of those findings, the IPCC and its team of scientists from across the globe, is to contribute more to the existing body of knowledge on the subject.
Among other things, they are to prepare a special report on the impacts of warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and related emissions pathways.
“Earlier this year, we brought experts together to scope out that report, and we signed off the outline the table of contents and structure in October. We are now recruiting authors to write the report, which will be delivered in 2018,” Lee said.
All this, while seeking to make their work more accessible.
“We are looking at how to work with our new authors to encourage them to produce their summaries for policymakers in clear, accessible language for non-specialists, and with academies to help them develop educational materials based on our reports,” Lee said to an audience of not only NGOs and policymakers, but also students.