Gov’t official casts doubt on Windalco reopening

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — A senior mining ministry official is casting doubt on prospects for the reopening of the mothballed Windalco Kirkvine alumina plant in Manchester, saying it is being scrapped for parts.

Oral Rainford, a principal director in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining, told an audience in Mandeville late Wednesday that it was his understanding that parts were being removed from Kirkvine to the active Windalco Ewarton alumina plant in St Catherine.

“It does appear that the facility (Kirkvine) is being actively scrapped, so to speak, meaning that the parts are being taken to Ewarton; so it is being cannibalised,” Rainford told the forum organised as part of Minerals Week activities at the Golf View Hotel.

“I don’t know if there are active plans to replace these parts, but that is what is happening. When I see something like that… it tells me that the plan may not be to facilitate a reopening,” Rainford said.

However, when contacted yesterday by the Jamaica Observer, Russian aluminium giant UC Rusal, owners of the Windalco plants, Kirkvine and Ewarton, as well as the mothballed Alpart alumina plant in St Elizabeth, said it remained committed “to restarting the Kirkvine Works refinery in Manchester, Jamaica”.

In an emailed response, issued through its Jamaica office, Rusal said: “Whenever there is a shutdown and restart of any of our facilities, there is always a focused and structured plan in place. As part of that plan, the Kirkvine plant has been executing comprehensive asset preservation and mothballing activities to ensure its readiness for a restart programme.”

The emailed statement noted that in April this year, Rusal announced plans “to embark on a programme to modernise its Jamaican refineries by shifting from steam production from fuel oil to gas as their main energy source. This shift will greatly boost the efficiency of the Jamaican refineries. We are still focused on implementing this energy solution which will enable us to restart the idled Kirkvine refinery and look forward to the added benefit it will provide to our business as well as the positive impact to the Jamaican economy”.

In its April statement, which at the time was echoed in Parliament by Energy and Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell, Rusal said “modernisation of Alpart and Windalco (Ewarton and Kirkvine works) alumina refineries in Jamaica (would) include the full shift of steam production from fuel oil to gas as their main energy source”.

UC Rusal, the world’s largest aluminium producers, said then that it “expects that the natural gas supplies to the three plants will begin in 2016″.

The release in April said the energy transformation programme “will be carried out by Rusal jointly with BP Energy Company (BPEC) of the United States and with Sea One AG, a Swiss company. The natural gas is to be supplied from the United States under long-term contracts with BPEC. The natural gas will be delivered to Jamaica through Sea One AG’s unique and proprietary LNG Lite Marine Gas Monetisation System. This system enables the natural gas, purchased from BPEC, to be liquefied at non-cryogenic temperatures at a facility expected to be located in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and then loaded and transported on ocean-going carriers to a receiving facility expected to be located at Port Esquivel where the gas cargo will be fractionated and delivered to UC Rusal’s plants and facilities via new pipeline interconnects”.

Paulwell, who left Jamaica yesterday for Nicaragua on PetroCaribe business, could not be reached for comment but ministry spokeswoman Olivia Campbell told the Observer that the “last official word” reaching the ministry from UC Rusal was that Kirkvine and Alpart were in line to be reopened in 2016.

“They (Rusal) said they are working on energy solutions that will allow the plants to be reopened in 2016,” Campbell said.

In analysing the situation surrounding Kirkvine late Wednesday, Rainford said it was his understanding “from the persons who are involved in managing” that reopening that plant would be a “challenge”.

He noted that, “compared with the Ewarton plant in St Catherine, this plant, I understand, is not as efficient, although that view has been debunked by quite a number of persons who say that it is the reverse that is true.

“What is however true, is that this plant (Kirkvine) is closed and the Ewarton plant is open,” he said.

The high cost of oil and old, inefficient equipment have been identified as the main reasons Kirkvine, located close to Williamsfield in central Manchester, and the larger Alpart in Nain, St Elizabeth, remain closed after being locked down in early 2009 at the height of the global financial meltdown. The plant in Ewarton was also closed at that time but has was reopened in 2010.

The shutdown in 2009 left about 2,000 people out of work and is said to have cost the country hundreds of millions of US dollars annually.

The economies of St Elizabeth and Manchester continue to be badly affected by the closure of Alpart and Kirkvine.

— Garfield Myers and Alicia Sutherland

Oral Rainford, addressing the audience at a National Minerals Week Public Lecture at the Golf View Hotel in Mandeville on Wednesday. (PHOTO GREGORY BENNETT)

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