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It's a waste of time! Environmentalists knock Government's waste-to-energy project
published: Sunday | August 31, 2008

Riverton City dump is considered ideal for the proposed Government energy-to-waste project.

Gareth Manning, Staff Reporter

GOVERNMENT'S MULTI-BILLION-dollar waste-to-energy project is creating a stir in some environmental circles.

Some are calling the plan impractical, suggesting, among other things, that the Government will not be able to supply the waste needed to efficiently feed the plant.

The Government announced in April that it was inviting proposals to set up the US$500 million (J$3.6 billion) waste-to-energy facility that would likely generate ethanol from garbage. The plan would see the Government possibly pur-chasing garbage from citizens for the purpose of producing energy, while scaling down dumping at the Riverton City landfill and other parish dumps.

The Office of Utility Regulations is currently sifting through pro-posals from bidders and a contract may be awarded by the end of the year.

However, environmentalists like Wendy Lee of the Northern Jamaica Conservation Association, are pessimistic about how the process would work.

"Waste to energy requires a certain volume, and since we don't have good collection and the cost of collection is horrendous, we would come to a point where we would have to buy garbage (from abroad) in order to get enough," she says.

Dr Nilza Justiz-Smith, lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Technology (UTech) in St Andrew, also acknowledges there might be an issue with producing enough garbage to efficiently feed the processing plant.

She says the idea should be pursued cautiously.

Harmful gas emissions

0"I am opposed to these waste-to-energy ideas. They require a high degree of technology," she says.

According to McCaulay, the technologies that are available are mostly incinerators, which require a great degree of management to ensure that the waste is being burnt at a temperature high enough to ensure few pollutants escape.

"You are often left behind with an ash that you have to dispose of and you have to ensure that only certain things go into the waste stream. I just have no faith in us being able to manage that," she says.

McCaulay explains that while there is a new technology that gasifies the waste, it is still not fully developed and will be expensive.

"Generally, in a country such as Jamaica, there is not enough scale - and plus, we are an island - so then people will either have to ship the waste to us, and then there is transport cost, and all that kind of stuff," she says.

"And then there is just a practical matter: I just can't see us being able to look at a barge of garbage that has arrived from somewhere and then 30 per cent has to go back because it is not suitable for the facility," McCaulay adds.

However, energy consultant to the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), Dr Raymond Wright, shares a different view point. He says the Riverton City landfill is large enough to efficiently feed a plant.

"The problem with solid waste in Jamaica is that it is not being disposed of properly, so it is not as easy to harness as if it were done in properly engineered landfills," says Wright.

Suite of technologies

"But in terms of size, the Riverton landfill is a pretty large landfill that could produce quite a lot of energy if it is properly engineered," he adds.

The PCJ, Office of Utilities Regulation and the Ministry of Fin-ance are the entities determining the logistics and terms under which the processing plant would operate.

Wright also points out that there is a suite of technologies from which the Government could choose and not all require incinerating the waste, though incineration is conventional and cheaper.

"There are biochemical means of reducing garbage to ethanol ... . So it depends on what you are using the garbage for," Wright says.

Environmentalist Peter Espeut, while sharing the concerns of his contemporaries, seems more con-cerned about the transparency of the deal.

"Like with the divestment of sugar, you don't want a situation where it is kept top secret, but in the very last minute they sign the thing already and then it turns out that it is a disaster," he says.

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