EDITORIAL: Saved from Cahill?
EVERY GOVERNMENT will, from time to time, take decisions that are unpopular with the population. That’s a given.
There are times when those who lead may take an action, expecting it to be popular and it turns out not to be; and there are also times when the very nature of leadership will dictate that decisions, though destined to be unliked by a significant portion, or perhaps even the majority of a population, are still so fundamental that to run away from them would be even more harmful to the society in the long run.
In the case of the proposed Cahill waste-to-energy plant, which was to be built on the questionable process called plasma gasification, it would be hard to plausibly deny, based on the information presented to the population so far, that the technology was untested, the cost unsustainable, the size out of character for Barbados and the acceptance by the population absolutely unattained.
Even for this often unpopular Democratic Labour Party administration, it would be hard to find another capital works proposal that infuriated Barbadians the way this Cahill project did.
As far as we were concerned, Cahill was preparing to foist, with the support of this Government, a $700 million experiment that could have had dire consequences for us in many ways – but particularly on the economic front.
But time may have been the greatest ally of Barbadians because the news a few days ago that the developers of two similar United Kingdom experiments had decided to pull the plug on them, at a cost of US$1 billion to the investors, must cause even this Government, which so often appears deaf to the opinions of even knowledgeable Barbadians, to pause and take note.
If this British development is not enough to tell the Freundel Stuart administration that plasma gasification and Cahill should be treated with the same approach as the Zika virus, then we may all be in for one hell of a garbage ride in the future.
For the record, we restate: Like most Barbadians, we are not opposed to waste-to-energy initiatives or more scientific and sensible ways of treating our garbage challenge. Any sensible approach that can turn waste into income for the country should be reasonably explored.
What we have still not been able to fathom, however, is why this Government appeared hell bent on facilitating a highly suspicious, overpriced and untested technology introduced by total strangers with no connection to Barbados.
What would have been Cahill’s motivation for offering the technology to Barbados apart from the fact that, if swallowed lock, stock and barrel as they presented it, they would have walked away with millions of dollars in profits?
On the other hand, we have had over the years what appeared to be far more modest approaches by Barbadians who live here, work here, invest here and stand to suffer the consequences if they took taxpayers’ money for a venture that turned out to be an albatross around the necks of citizens.
Yet this Government apparently never gave them even the time of day.
But again, time and the collapse of the two Air Products 50-megawatt plasma gasification plants in the UK, before they have been completed or been able to burn even a shovel full of refuse, appear to present the perfect opportunity for this Government to save face.
Alternative solutions are still needed and alternative proposals are still on the table. The Government would be within its right to dust them off, even invite updated proposals and then, with a level of transparency that was totally lacking in the Cahill venture, select a partner or partners to provide a sensible solution.
Hard as it may seem, it is still possible for the always combative Minister of the Environment Dr Dennis Lowe to come out of this garbage mess smelling like a rose – well, almost!