A typical coal power plant generates an average of 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide… 500 tons of small airborne particles…720 tons of carbon monoxide… 225 pounds of arsenic… and 114 pounds of lead, four pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium which are all poisonous and carcinogenic.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Coal-fired power plant is the most hazardous energy source in the world but despite its dire effects, the national government plans to construct at least four new coal power plants by 2012 and is targeting to increase the local production of coal by 250 percent by 2015.
According to Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), more coal-fired power plants will be constructed in the provinces of Isabela, Zambales, Negros Oriental and Occidental, Davao City, Saranggani, General Santos, and Sultan Kudarat.
There are already nine existing coal-fired power plants in the Philippines which are operating in Sual, Pangasinan; Masinloc, Zambales; Mauban and Pagbilao, Quezon; Toledo City and Naga, Cebu; La Paz, Iloilo, and Semirara, Antique and Villanueva, Misamis Oriental. By December of this year, Panay Energy Development Corp. (PEDC) will start to operate in Iloilo, while Korean Electric Power Co. (Kepco) in Naga, Cebu was also set to operate next year.
“The hazards of coal fired power plants is well discussed in numerous international studies, but here in the Philippines, there seem to be a deliberate attempt by the government to ignore these health and environmental impacts as well as the pleas of the communities against coal fired power projects,” said Meggie Nolasco, public information officer of Kalikasan-PNE.
After his US trip last September, Aquino boasted of bringing home $3.7 billion in investments. Part of this potential investments would be coming from Marubeni Corp, which plans to rehabilitate and expand the 1,200-megawatt (MW) Sual and 735-MW Pagbilao coal-fired power facilities in Luzon.
How dirty could the coal-fired power plant be?
A typical coal power plant generates an average of 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain; 500 tons of small airborne particles which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death and lung diseases; 720 tons of carbon monoxide which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease; 225 pounds of arsenic which is carcinogenic; and 114 pounds of lead, four pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium which are all poisonous and carcinogenic.
Coal-fired power plants produce electricity through coal. The coal, a sedimentary rock is the main material in producing energy. It is burned to produce heat; this heat coming from the burning coal is used to generate steam that is used to spin one or more turbines to generate electricity. Coal is composed of carbon along with variable quantities of other elements, sulfur, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.
However, the generation of harmful byproducts in coal burning depends on the efficiency of the process. Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairperson of Agham said if the coal is made of pure carbon, its byproduct is carbon dioxide. But the country’s coal is not high grade; it is not pure carbon. “Not all coal available here in our country are pure, there are other materials contained in the coal and some of these are even radioactive.”
In an interview with Bulatlat, Tapang explained that if the coal is not burned efficiently, the radioactive materials contained by coal would be emitted through the ashes coming from the burned coal. This would definitely affect the community surrounding the coal-fired power plant. “We oppose this because it does not only contribute to climate change but also has vast effects on the community and the people.”
Companies running coal-fired power plants claim that there are new technologies to ensure that people’s lives and the environment would not be at risk, said Tapang. “According to them there are ways to ensure the efficiency of coal burning like liquefying the coal (grind it into fine powder and mix it with other materials). But still, if the burning process is not efficient the plant would still emit substances in the atmosphere. And there would still be liquid wastes that have to be disposed somewhere and would have effects on the community.”
Impact on Health
On Oct. 14, PEDC had a second test run of its 164 megawatt coal power plant in Barangay Ingore La Paz, Iloilo. According to the local urban poor organization Kadamay, the residents complained of ground tremors, loud noise and foul fumes. During the test run, the communities were covered by smog. Kadamay added at least eight children from the affected village, aged eight months to 14 years old, were hospitalized after inhaling fumes from the plant and exhibiting symptoms of sickness, such as headaches, dizziness and nausea.