Submitted by Heather Cole
Barbados is in dire need of a solution to its waste management problem and a sound environmental preservation plan. A statement that was carried in the press by the Minister of the Environment Denis Lowe during his delivery for the SSA (Amendment) Bill 2016, showed that he was no nearer to providing a solution to these problem than his party was eight years ago when it came into office. All pleas to the Minister and the Government have fallen on deaf ears to introduce a national programme to reduce, reuse and recycle. Minister Denis Lowe is bent on building a Plasma Gasification Plant as a solution to garbage disposal. He was also quoted as saying that “it will cost the taxpayers no money” as well as “the government has not spent a cent and is not expected to spend a cent.”
One may recall all too well that the Cahill Memorandum of Understanding along with the financial documents were leaked to BU and are still available to be read in this forum.. The information captured in those documents was to the effect that investors were to be responsible for the building of the plant and its equipment. It also stated that the land, infrastructure, water, tax free concessions and a guaranteed sales agreement for electricity were awarded to the company. These are the surface cost.
Government has already acquired the land at Vaucluse and per the laws of compulsory acquisition in Barbados, the owner of the land has to be compensated by government. It will cost the Government not cents but thousands of dollars.
Given the water woes that are currently being experienced in the Northern part of Barbados, it is indeed unrealistic for the government to continue to pursue this venture at this time. One wonders if there will be some basis by which the water if it is available will be distributed between the households and the plant and who will get the preferential access to water. Government has been advocating that it is climate change which has resulted in a drought that has been responsible for the water woes and not burst pipes, the aged infrastructure or poor management. If climate change is indeed the problem, it will be interesting to find how far the government is willing to go to ensure that this plant becomes a reality since it has already agreed to the delivery of the water when the water problem was not as aggravated as it is now. One wonders, if at the expense of the taxpayers, the government will incur the cost to purchase and install water tanks specifically for the waste to energy plant.
On February 12th, 2016 in the US, it was reported that the price of gasoline had dropped to US $0.99 cents per gallon in Kansas City, MO. It is at an all-time low and is projected to remain low for the next decade. It will be ridiculous for government to go ahead with the agreement to have the Plasma Gasification Plant built especially now that it knows that the price that it will pay the owners of the plant for electricity will be highway robbery of the taxpayers’ money.
The agreement does not provide any information on liability insurance in case there is a fall out. No information has been given regarding the potential health issues that the presence of the gasification will create.
There will be a cost to measure Barbados’ air quality given that nitrogen dioxide, mercury; dioxin, particulate matter, and acidic gas are all by-products of Waste to Energy facilities. At present we do not have a facility or the technology to monitor the quality of air on the island.
Nano particulate is a by-product of plasma gasification plants and we can expect a surge in asthma related and breathing problems as a result of the plant. Nano particulate are also cancer causing. The entire population is at risk of inhaling the particles and the exposure can lead to an increase in cancer in the population. These harmful dioxins are also transferred to the unborn, affecting their brains, immune systems, sexual and mental development and hormones. How will the hospital which now does not even have basic necessities and is seeking to become private be able to accommodate residents who become too sick to work and to pay? This will be an additional burden in the cost of health care that the state will have to bear.
These harmful dioxins affect everything in the environment; the soil, plants, food-crops and animals and the coral reefs. Outdoor farming close to the plant will definitely be a thing of the past. Another cost to taxpayers will be the cost of growing king grass at the expense of growing a revenue generating crop like sugar cane. It does not even rational sense to grow grass to burn garbage.
While the Minister of the environment will never state it, there is a cost to giving tax concessions to any company in Barbados. The taxes that are not collected from Cahill will have to be reallocated to the taxpayers by increasing a tax or creating a new tax. There will be a cost to the taxpayers for the infrastructure that will be laid like wells and pipes and roads, prior to the plant being build and this means that it will be coming from the public purse.
Then there is the matter of the tipping fees that the government will forgo if the waste haulers are forced out of business. It also makes one wonder about the said fees which are to finance government’s agreement with SBRC and should the public expect a replacement tax.
Added to this, the recycling industry will also be impacted since the size of the plant demands a specific tonnage of garbage. There is still no guarantee that garbage of the households in Barbados will meet the requirement of the Waste to Energy Plant. Garbage may very well be imported to feed the plant and one will not know if it will be nuclear waste or rat or snake infested waste. This brings us to the question of who will be inspecting waste that is imported. Will this not incur a cost?
In another article earlier this week the Minister of the Environment was again quoted saying that he was unaware of the extent of erosion on the beaches of Barbados and that the cost of combating the erosion was too much to be undertaken at this time due to the financial constraints it would have on the economy. He seems to have forgotten that tourism is not only the biggest sector in Barbados but the only one that is performing relatively well. Why not preserve the tourism product? All of the money that will be spent on the hidden costs of the Cahill Plant which will be incurred by government can be put to better use to combat beach erosion.
Why expose our tourism product to a Plasma Gasification Plant. From the upscale housing development of Sandy Lane to the pristine sandy beaches and the coral reefs as well as the reputation of being an exotic destination are at risk of being ruined because it is impossible to conceptualize a Plasma Gasification Plant on a tourist destination that is only 166 sq mls.
Instead of purchasing another garbage truck, the $480,000.00 of the tax payers’ money could have been used to lay the foundations for zero waste, reduce, reuse and recycle programs and banning products such as plastic and Styrofoam which are not bio-degradable. These will put the island on a more sustainable path to effectively handle its waste. Ours is a consumer economy, there will always be buying of goods, throwing away old things for new ones and disposing of packaging. Ultimately the amount of garbage will continue to rise. The answer to resolving the island’s garbage problem does not lie in purchasing more and more trucks or building a Plasma Gasification to Energy Plant.
In the final analysis, the Government of Barbados’ short sighted actions are not solutions to the waste management problem – time to start a sound environmental preservation plan. The Plasma Gasification Plant will be at no cost to the managers of Barbados, but ultimately the price tag will be quite hefty to the taxpayers who are still healthy enough to work in Barbados after the plant is in operation. The real buyers should therefore beware that the Plasma Gasification Plant comes with a price tag that cannot even be calculated at this time. One hopes that the Minister of the Environment realizes that it is not the Opposition but the people of Barbados that “are in a position to take the Freundel Stuart Government over the guillotine for the proposed waste to energy joint venture with the Cahill Group of Canada.” Sadly, the Prime Minister, who is ultimately responsible to the people of Barbados for his Ministers’ actions, clearly missed the mark when he failed to make a meaningful contribution in the Debate on the SSA (Amendment) Bill 2016. One wonders if he has been blinded by the garbage that he spoke.