Energy supply for a “sustainable” Mauritius: The implications of coal

By September 14, 2012 Blog No Comments

Throughout history, the demographic expansion has been correlated and enhanced by a steady growth in our energy production. The smooth running of our current industrial civilization is mostly, if not wholly, dependent on access to mass energy of various types. Should energy availability decline, one could expect serious repercussions on civilization and the human population it supports. In the case of Mauritius, the demographic explosion in urban and rural areas highlights the need to satisfy increasing energy demands.

For a country that prides itself on its initiative to carry the mantle for a sustainable future, the possible implementation of CT power plant fuelled solely by coal excites much controversy. The underlying reason rests on the fact that the Mauritius Ile Durable (MID) concept has been promoting the ideology of finding a balance between the economic, environmental and social aspect of all the projects brought forth by the government. However, with regards to coal, one cannot find the logic behind the decision making process as:

Coal pollutes and creates social disruption

Coal-burning plants produce some of the most noxious gases to our atmosphere. They emit approximately one-third of carbon dioxide which is a major contributor to global warming; 40% of mercury which is highly toxic if ingested or inhaled; ¼ of nitrogen oxide which contributes to smog and 2/3rd of sulphur dioxide which is a component of acid rain. Deposited airborne particles washed by rain can pollute freshwater streams and the sea and have a negative impact on marine life. The surrounding of the plant would be a promotion in itself of unhealthy lifestyle due to the fumes emitted. Even when the chimneys are shut down or emissions are low, it would be hard pressed to promote any healthy activity like jogging or cycling in the area since any contact with heels or tyres would raise deposited particles on the ground. We can anticipate that the poor quality of life that would result will cause people to relocate. For the unfortunate ones that cannot afford such a move, they will be condemned to a lifelong deprivation of clean air. Hence, we will witness the birth of social segregation in the region.

Coal is expensive on the long run

The commonality between coal and other fossil fuels is that it is extracted from the ground. Unfortunately, like its counterpart, it is also a finite resource. The more depleted the resource gets, the more expensive it becomes. Moreover, the cost of storage and operation involved in a coal powered plant is very high.

The choice to coal would cause harm to our road infrastructure.

Coal would need to be transported inland and since our country does not yet possess any railway system, especially one dedicated to that purpose, it becomes inevitability that our road systems would be used. Currently our roads are already reeling from severe traffic jams and we would have to make allowance for an additional 115 heavily loaded trucks. This would not only worsen the traffic predicament but also pose a danger to our inhabitants should one of them be involved in an accident.

It is essential to understand that for any decision to be called sustainable, it has to be so from cradle to grave. When one considers the process of coal extraction, one fails to see the sustainable side in such an endeavor. Hectares of land would be razed down and the operation of heavy machineries in the construction process adds to fuel consumption and pollution. The working environment of the miners that would be involved would be untenable as they are constantly inhaling dangerous particles. Moreover, the lack of availability of coal in Mauritius outlines not only a need for additional expenses but also the willingness to accept the pollution risk linked to transportation and storage of the material.

There has been extensive research done on the usage of coal as an energy source and all of those sources predict, with confidence, a continued rise in the use of coal up to a peak in 2025. As global warming gets more severe, there will be a concurrent mounting pressure to reduce coal use. Those countries that run on coal would be forced to slowly shift to alternative sources of energy production. What will happen to our island then? If this project goes forward and enables the inevitable rise of price of coal? Or, if the preservation of our ecosystem forces international organizations to shut down coal powered plants? Wouldn’t we need to look for alternative energy sources?

In the face of this stark reality, would it not be more economically viable to invest in alternative and renewable sources of energy right now?

If this project goes forth, the erection of the coal powered plant would be a monument of the death of an idea; that of a truly sustainable Mauritius.

Let’s take into account the fact that all the research clearly points that the erection of coal powered plants will promote an inevitable rise in the price of coal consequential danger to the populace and an inexorable damage to the environment. Let’s also not forget that renewable energy is currently readily available and cheaper to run. Hence, the choice of coal raises questions: Is there a hidden agenda involved? Are there other motives more important than our economy, our people and our environment driving such a decision?

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