After much legal wrangling, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development has approved – under specific conditions – construction of a coal-fired plant by CT Power (Mauritius) Ltd at Pointe-aux-Caves, Albion. Construction could start in the next few months, with completion in 2014. To meet current and future demand for electricity, the government argues that Mauritius must diversify its energy supplies beyond reliance on petroleum. But many disagree, and this has sparked protests in Mauritius and on the internet to stop the 100-megawatt project. Opponents say that coal will harm the island with dirty emissions and ash, and they urge the government to pursue less harmful alternatives. Yet many of the renewable energy alternatives are still not well tested, while coal remains readily available and is generally the cheaper.
In the following interview, the debate is carried further with Felix Ah-Kee, a Mauritian-born professional engineer who has worked on renewable energy projects in 24 countries, including developing a bagasse energy plan for the Mauritius Sugar Authority in 1991. A graduate of Harvard, the University of Houston and Louisiana State University, Ah-Kee now lives in Hawaii where he consults on energy projects for a variety of international clients. He was in Mauritius on a personal visit when the contract was announced in January. Ah-Kee discusses his views with Pamela de St. Antoine, Week-End’s Washington Correspondent.
• You feel strongly that Mauritius should not be pursuing energy generated from coal-fired plants as part of its energy future. What are your main objections ?
Despite the well-documented environmental hazards of coal, Mauritius will have to live with it as a transitional fuel in the immediate future. Mauritius should avoid any risk of locking itself into an everlasting coal energy future, and should keep its options open for other cleaner, less expensive fuels of the future. My main objections to developing large coal-fired power plants at an expedited rate are the lack of review of alternatives, and the distinct possibility that large coal power plants would stifle investors’ interest in developing smaller, cleaner and less expensive renewable energy projects.