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Sun, water, wind and garbage

THE PURSUIT of alternative energy is fundamental to a positive future for Jamaica. The statistics are overwhelming of the debilitating cost of imported fossil-fuel energy to Jamaica. Approximately 97 per cent of Jamaica’s energy usage comes from oil, costing the country over US$1.5 billion in 2010. Imported oil consumes approximately a third of the country’s budget.

The cost of energy is particularly harmful to Jamaica’s productive sector, which spends US0.31¢ per kilowatt hour on energy, far exceeding that of neighbouring countries such as Barbados and Trinidad. This puts Jamaica at a competitive disadvantage in marketing its goods and services within Caribbean Community countries and beyond. The government, present and past, has been focusing on modernising Jamaica’s electricity-generation infrastructure and diversifying its energy usage towards cheaper fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and renewable energy sources, namely, solar and wind power. Private-sector companies have responded to this urgent need for less-costly and cleaner energy.

There are four sources Jamaica should be paying attention to in addressing alternative energy and a clean environment. These are sun, water, wind and garbage. Much is being said and envisaged for sun and wind. However, the same vigour is not being shown towards water and garbage. The Wigton Windfarm in Manchester, owned and operated by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, currently generates approximately three per cent of Jamaica’s electricity, contributing to the reduction of oil importation and reducing carbon dioxide emission, making for a cleaner environment.

nuclear-energy risks

The Dutch have long pursued the wind as an efficient and clean energy source, with several types of wind-driven generators coming on stream. While there was talk in 2011 to move their focus more to nuclear-energy generation because it shows promise to be less costly than other alternative energy sources, the nuclear crisis in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year has caused the Dutch and other proponents of nuclear energy to rethink the risks.

In Jamaica in the 1970s, the Michael Manley-led administration, working with Cuban expertise, provided irrigation water using micro-dams spread throughout the country. However, today, only a few remain operative – one in St Thomas, a couple in Clarendon, and another at Bodles in St Catherine. The project, from inception, was plagued with political criticism because of its Cuban connection and also a belief that the micro-dams were poorly constructed.

Today, ironically, the country, originally named Xamayca (land of wood and water) by the indigenous Taino people, has acute water problems ranging from places with no water to serious flooding and wasting of water. Although surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, there has been no attempt, to my knowledge, to explore desalination as a means of providing potable water and a clean, renewable energy source.

The energy source, however, that offers the quickest results and addresses environmental issues is recycling. For years, upon each visit to Jamaica, my wife lamented the country’s failure to introduce garbage recycling. Her rationale is that it must be beneficial for First-World nations to participate in recycling programmes for so long, and Jamaica should be following suit to reap some of those benefits. Research provides some very interesting reasons for recycling:

Income: There is money in recycling. There are a lot of things lying around the house that are useless and, rather than ending up in a dumpsite, could be sold for recycling. In many North American communities, aluminium cans are the most valuable recyclable items, which more than cover the cost of collection and reprocessing for itself.

Conserves limited resources: Throwing away a single aluminium can, versus recycling it, is like pouring out six ounces of gasolene. Last year, Americans recycled enough aluminium cans to conserve the energy equivalent of more than 15 million barrels of oil. Facts provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection indicate that by recycling one million tons of steel in 2004, Pennsylvanians saved 1.3 million tons of iron ore, 718,000 tons of coal, and 62,000 tons of limestone. Through recycling newsprint, office paper and mixed paper, they saved over 8.2 million trees.

Energy-efficient: On a larger scale, recycling could translate into huge reductions in energy costs. It costs more energy to manufacture a brand-new aluminium can than it does to recycle 20 aluminium cans. Twenty cans can be made from recycled material, using the same energy it takes to make one new can.

Builds community: In developed countries today, there is growing concern for recycling and the environment. People are working together in recycling programmes, lobbies, and free-recycle organisations, to help promote recycling.

Creates jobs: Incinerating 10,000 tons of waste creates one job; land filling 10,000 tons of waste creates six jobs; recycling 10,000 tons of waste creates 36 jobs.

Builds a strong economy: Done on a nationwide scale, like in the United States and Germany, recycling has a huge impact on the economy in terms of jobs, energy-cost reduction, and resources conservation. Lately, as the price of a barrel of oil rises, people have become more aware of the huge impact of recycling on the overall economy of their country.

Waste to energy: Waste Management, based in Houston, Texas, is a giant in the US garbage-collection and recycling business. The company operates 17 waste-to-energy plants that incinerate garbage to generate electricity. It also collects methane gas from 129 landfills and turns it into electricity, which it sends to the grid for public use. These projects produce enough energy to power 1.1 million homes – more, it is said, than the US solar industry. The company has a goal to double that by 2020.

Earth-friendly: No matter how safe and efficient landfills are being billed to be, the possibility of dangerous chemicals coming from the solid waste deposited in these landfills, contaminating underground water supply, is always present. Combustion of solid waste costs dearly in increased air pollution.

I met recently with a colleague, Fernando Peguero, president of Bronx Recycling Inc, and Pyropeg Inc. The former, a recycling company operating in the South Bronx for some 20 years, the latter a solar-energy company that has a patent for a technology to build thermal solar collector cells and modules for heating water efficiently and running solar dryers for the agro-processing industry. Mr Peguero, originally from the Dominican Republic, I believe, would help me to better understand the commercial viability of alternative energy and recycling in an environment like Jamaica.

His first advice was “think incrementally”. Do not expect big percentages of energy-cost savings immediately. For him, a one per cent gain in cost and efficiency is a big deal, as a “one per cent gain means a one per cent saving of money that would be exported”. And each one per cent saving adds up, and soon it is five or 10 per cent of savings, which is income for the internal economy.

He further advises that for recycling to work it has to be legislated, but with an educational component. The populace must be informed of its benefits to the country, and there must be a penalty for not adhering to the recycling programme.

The final and most important benefit is “to the country”. He warns not to impose systems without making cultural adjustments, and suggests that countries like Jamaica and Haiti should start with pilot projects. An estimated cost to establish and operate for one year a Continued from f11

recycling project in a community with a population the size of Mandeville or Montego Bay is between US$500,000 and $1 million.

Several countries, Jamaica included, are now pursuing government-backed clean-energy lending programmes as a way of stimulating growth in the alternative-energy sector. Interestingly, the Jamaican Government, through the Export-Import Bank, offered financing to entrepreneurs pursuing alternative-energy projects, but received a lukewarm response. From feedback I received, the interest is there, but the requirements may not have been accommodative.

The Chinese government leads the way in expenditure on alternative energy, providing in 2009 more than US$34 billion in credit to its country’s largest solar manufacturers. China has spread its net as world leader in alternative energy to the United States, where it has invested through companies such as Suntech Power Holdings over US$5 billion in Arizona, which has quickly become the solar-energy capital of the US.

In developing its energy policy, Jamaica should forge close relations with the governments of China, Europe and the United States, specifically to President Barack Obama’s thrust for alternative energy. He consistently expresses his views, referring to oil as “yesterday’s” energy.

“We need to invest in the technology that will help us use less oil in our cars and our trucks, in our buildings, in our factories. That’s the only solution to the challenge,” he is recently quoted as saying.

In its drive for growth and development, Jamaica must put itself in the position to produce, spending less on energy, and invest these savings to generate more goods and services for export and for import substitution.

Alternative energy, with its history of initially slow-but-sure financial results, could be an ideal vehicle to tap into, using diaspora bonds for developmental projects. The rewards from new green technology far outweigh the negatives, and it addresses both short-term, but more so long-term challenges.

Julian ‘Jingles’ Reynolds has operated in the US and Jamaica as a writer, film-maker and entrepreneur for over four decades.



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