THE ISSUE: Project raises questions
Has Barbados made the right decision to have a waste to energy plant?
Last month’s announcement that Barbados a signed a deal facilitating the construction and operation of a new waste to energy plant has fuelled debate and some controversy.
While Government has hailed the US$240 million project being led by Guernsey-based Cahill Energy as a significant development and likely major benefit for the island, the critics, including the Opposition and some environmentalists, have questioned the wisdom of such a venture.
On its announcement of his company’s signing of an agreement with Government to facilitate construction of the plant at Vaucluse, St Thomas, Cahill chief executive officer Clare Cowan said: “Cahill Energy began exploring Waste to Energy in 2011 and our attention was directed towards the Caribbean by 7th Heaven Properties.
“While we recognise the country faces some short term challenges due to the impact of the global economic downturn, we believe the fundamentals are strong. We are therefore confident that this investment represents a phenomenal business opportunity for our investors and offers even greater benefits to the people of Barbados.”
Also welcoming the deal was Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Senator Darcy Boyce.
While Sinckler called it a game changer for Barbados and a sign the island was still a preferred destination for solid, and impactful foreign direct investment, Lowe said, “Cahill Energy offers us a real solution to becoming energy independent, while at the same time reducing our massive oil import bill. Cahill Energy has brought a waste to energy option to the Government of Barbados that is far superior to any other we have examined.”
Boyce was also quoted as saying that “this waste to energy project is a major step to put Barbados firmly on the way to its initial target of replacing by 2029, 29 per cent of its oil based electricity by generation from renewable and alternative energy . . . ten years earlier than planned”.
Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley was among those questioning the project’s viability and said there were too many unanswered questions about it, including what she said was the absence of an environmental impact assessment study.
“Environmental impact assessments allow us to make a judgement on whether the investment is an investment which we can justify as being worthy in the interest of the people . . . . Let the Minister of Energy, and the Minister of Housing and the Minister of Finance in this debate, tell us whether a specific environmental impact assessment study has been done in relation to this investment, or whether all that is in their possession is a generic environmental impact assessment,” she said.
Mottley’s other concerns including the intended use of plasma gasification technology on the Barbados project, noting that her researched found this method to be “largely untested commercially”.
The concent of a waste to energy facility is not new and Government officials have been speaking about having such a facility in Barbados for the last several years.
Most of the concerns voiced internationally about these plants, including plasma gasification, relate to potential environmental harm they might cause.
According to the website recoveredenergy.com, plasma gasification “is the gasification of matter in an oxygen-starved environment to decompose waste material into its basic molecular structure”.
“Plasma gasification does not combust the waste as incinerators do. It converts the organic waste into a fuel gas that still contains all the chemical and heat energy from the waste. It converts the inorganic waste into an inert vitrified glass,” it explained.
But a major criticism of this and other waste to energy processes was that there was no guarantee that toxic emissions were completely eliminated. This was in addition to a suggestion that rather than discouraging the accumulating of trash, they encouraged people to produce waste.
In the United States, for example, Joseph Miller, a board member for Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, said: “These types of technologies are a disincentive to go toward a zero-waste society. They’re taking us in the wrong direction.”