By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Will anything good come out of the Mindanao Power Summit?
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño is apprehensive that the upcoming Mindanao Power Summit will all be for naught when it comes to furthering the interest of consumers. He said there are signs that the summit’s projected results might already be a “done deal” and that there might already be agreements to jack up power rates in Mindanao and put up environmentally-hazardous coal plants already sealed during a pre-summit meeting organized by the Department of Energy last week.
President Benigno “Noynoy” C. Aquino III has called for a summit after a dialogue with Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chair Lualhati Antonino wherein the officials sought to come up with proposals to address the supposed energy crisis in Mindanao. The summit was originally scheduled in Davao City last March 31, but it was moved to this April.
Casiño aired his fears upon learning that in an April 4 pre-summit meeting in Davao, Energy Sec. Jose Rene Almendras ordered Mindanao electric cooperatives to buy expensive power from privatized power barges at P14 kWh, (US$0.325) with government shouldering the P9/kWh (US$0.209) diesel cost.
The secretary also reportedly ordered local government officials to immediately approve the environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) for at least two new coal-fired power plants in Mindanao.
“If that is the case then the power summit would just be a rubber stamp for DOE circular DC 2012–03-0004 which forces consumers to pay an additional 50 to 80 centavos per kWh (US$0.0116 to US$0.0186) for their electricity due to the manipulations of favored private power generators like Therma Marine, Inc. owned by the Aboitizes, ” he said. “The summit is also meant to convince the people of Mindanao of the supposed need to deploy more coal-fired and diesel power plants despite Mindanao’s abundance in clean and renewable energy sources.”
Casiño also said it was “strange” that government is willing to subsidize diesel power at P9/kWh (US$0.209) when it would be cheaper and sustainable to subsidize solar and other renewable energy sources.
“Is there a conspiracy to ram fossil-fuel power as the solution? Would this not reduce the power summit to a farce, giving Mindanao consumers no choice but to stick to more expensive, dirty, non-renewable power?”
He also accused the DOE of blackmail for saying that Mindanaoans have to pay for expensive, fossil-fuel based power or have nothing.
“What makes Mindanao different from Visayas and Luzon is its rich potential for renewable energy – from solar, hydro, geothermal to biomass. Why not tap these instead of the more expensive and dirty fossil fuel technologies?” he stressed.
He described the impact of the government’s solution as heavy. “In terms of price, its P50-P80 (US$1.162-US$1.86) additional for those who consume 100 kWh per month, P100-P160 (US$2.33 to US$3.72) for those who consume 200 kWh and so forth. This is on top of the approved increase by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for Napocor generation rates.”
Alternative energy sources
In the meantime, the activist lawmaker is pushing for a proposal to solve the supposed power crisis: solar-powered homes.
Casiño said the Aquino government should develop fuel alternatives and accelerate the exploration and utilization of renewable sources of energy. Casiño said the government should lead efforts to build a million solar powered roofs in 10 years.
The lawmaker recently filed House Bill 5405 or the proposed One Million Solar Roofs Act and said that Congress should fast track the bill which provides incentives and financing facilities to ordinary electricity consumers like residences, offices and small to medium business establishments who want to put up their own solar power systems.
The proposal will allow homeowners and entrepreneurs to get loans from the Pag-Ibig, the Government Social Insurance System (GSIS), the Social Security System (SSS) and other financial institutions to purchase solar panels and pay the amount from the ensuing savings in their electricity bills.
“We can hit three birds with one stone: we secure additional power supplies; liberate ourselves from expensive, dirty and imported fossil fuels; and develop the local renewable energy industry,” Casiño said.
Solar power, not emergency powers
In 2008, Congress enacted Republic Act no. 9513 or the Renewable Energy Act to encourage investments in renewable energy. Casiño said that to complement the measure, it is also necessary to encourage demand and provide incentives especially to purchasers of small renewable energy systems. He said the government should think out of the box and go beyond the big developer mentality in dealing with the power crisis.
“Solar power technology allows electricity consumers to be producers themselves. So rather than giving the President emergency powers to ink sweetheart contracts again with the big players, why not empower consumers to produce their own energy through solar power?”
The activist lawmaker said his proposal allows these solar-powered households and small firms to feed in their unused power to the grid during peak midday hours at a cost cheaper than existing diesel peaking plants. In the National Capital Region (NCR), some peaking plants sell at as high as P30 per kilowatt hour (US$0.697) while solar can be sold at half the price. He said the amount sold by the solar power producer can be offset from their monthly electricity bills via the net metering mechanism as proposed in the bill.
“Solar technology can be an immediate and sustainable way to deal with the country’s energy problems, especially with the abundance of solar energy throughout the country and the modular nature of solar energy systems,” he said. “Besides the country being second in Southeast Asia in terms of irradiation and insolation, we already have the foundation to become a renewable energy leader in the region owing to the strong semi-conductor industry and the manpower base serving in the manufacturing and service sectors, especially the installers sub-sector.”
Casiño said if the government harnesses solar energy resources and provides incentives for massive deployment of solar energy systems, the prospects of attaining energy independence from oil companies and significantly lowering electricity prices in the medium-term become realizable.
As the Aquino administration admitted that the power problem in Mindanao had been neglected for years and as things develop a power crisis is looming in Luzon in the next two years, Casiño said, the government should invest in solar power to promote energy stability and independence from imported energy sources, mitigate global warming and air pollution and encourage industry growth that will lead to more jobs and lower electricity bills.
In the proposal, Casino’s ” “Small Solar Power System” proposal is comprised of rooftop-installed solar-powered equipment, devices and systems, not exceeding 10 kilowatts (kw) for residential and 500 kw for businesses, used to generate electricity, light, or heat water. The installation target or the targeted share of solar power in the total energy mix in the next 10 years is at least a million households.
The solar power will be utilized by consumers through a net metering system. This is said to be appropriate for distributed generation, in which a distribution grid user has a two-way connection to the grid and is only charged for his net electricity consumption and is credited for any overall contribution to the electricity grid.
Based on Casiño’s proposal, the installation of the solar power systems will be implemented by the Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB) and the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). The said agencies are tasked to encourage the installation of small solar energy systems in homes and business establishments all over the country.
The NREB will formulate and implement the eligibility criteria for qualified participants who may avail of the various incentives and programs. The NREB will also determine the minimum standards for small solar power systems, taking into account installed nameplate capacity as well as local content, which should be at least 50 percent.
In the meantime, soft loans and other incentives for the purchase and installation of the solar power systems will be jointly administered by the NREB, the Pag-IBIG Fund, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and the Social Security System (SSS). These agencies will , provide for a solar rooftop credit and financing program, accessible to all eligible Pag-IBIG, GSIS and SSS members.