Don't just talk about alternative energy, act!

Monday, January 07, 2013

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WE are aware that many factors can affect negotiations between the Government and business entities wishing to set operations here.

Those factors can range from complex to the most minute detail. Either way, they most times lead to start-up delays that frustrate all parties involved.

With that in mind, we hope that the Government and Russian firm UC Rusal, owners of Alpart, can sign off on a reopening date for the alumina plant as quickly as possible. Ideally, we wouldn't mind if that agreement could be reached before the middle of this month, as was projected by an official of the mining and energy ministry and reported in last week's edition of the Jamaica Observer Central.

According to the ministry official, "the discussions are continuing and they are very productive, but they are at a delicate stage".

The mid-January date offered by the official followed on a promise by Mining and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, in November, for word on the plant's reopening by the end of last year.

That word cannot come too soon for the people of St Elizabeth, particularly those in the south-eastern section of the parish. In fact, the entire Jamaica, we believe, will welcome the reopening of Alpart, so too the Kirkvine plant — also owned by UC Rusal — in central Manchester.

For as was reported in the Observer Central last week, economic gloom hangs heavy in both parishes, with unemployment on the rise and savings of ex-bauxite workers already spent or fast running out.

Almost 1,000 persons lost their jobs at Alpart and hundreds more at Kirkvine when both plants were closed in 2009 because of the global financial crisis.

Government spokespersons have admitted that the persistent global economic downturn and the high cost of energy remain tough hurdles as Jamaica continues to negotiate with UC Rusal.

The Russian investors, of course, must make sound economic decisions, as they are in business to turn a profit, which will allow them to hire more Jamaicans.

It is against that background that we urge the Administration to move quickly on alternative energy solutions for the country, as therein lies the most pressing difficulty in attracting foreign investment here.

It's not that we lack ideas on more economical sources of energy than oil. This and previous administrations have floated the use of either coal, ethanol, solar, hydro, wind, natural gas, or a combination of a few of those.

Just last week, we used this space to encourage the Government to give serious thought to the Leucaena project, which was established in response to the energy crisis of the late 1970s.

The Leucaena plant, referred to in some parts of the world as the 'miracle tree' and in Jamaica as the 'wild tamarind', has been used to produce energy as well as animal feed. Had we stuck with that project, rather than pull back when oil prices dropped, our annual oil importation bill would be much less than the more than US$2 billion it is today.

Significant reductions in energy costs will, no doubt, cause investors to give Jamaica a second look. That, we believe, should be a major pillar of the Government's plans going forward. Instead of speaking about it, the Administration must do what is necessary.




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