“It’s obvious that Aquino is coddling private energy corporations, particularly those using dirty fuels.” – Kalikasan-PNE
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
The newly-established environmental party Kalikasan Party-list criticized the Benigno Aquino III administration for allegedly railroading the approval of coal power plant deals in Mindanao. The group said the administration continues to pursue dirty coal power and dangerous nuclear power plant projects despite strong opposition from the public and the popular call to pursue clean alternatives.
“It’s obvious that Aquino is coddling private energy corporations, particularly those using dirty fuels. His midnight approval of the contracts to operate of three coal-fired power plants proves this. The Philippines already has 11 coal-fired power plants operating, two of which were inaugurated under Aquino’s watch. This is not the first time that one of Aquino’s pet projects presents serious environmental problems,” said Kalikasan Party-list spokesman Leon Dulce.
Dulce explained that scientific estimates put the average annual pollutive output of these three power projects at 11,100,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, 2,160 tons of carbon monoxide, and countless other toxic chemical compounds and heavy metals.
In the meantime, the environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) pointed out how the Aquino administration is using the energy crisis in Mindanao to justify the further privatization of energy utilities through the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). Since its passage in 2001, the EPIRA’s privatization schemes have resulted in the skyrocketing of electricity rates as dictated by independent power producers.
“Aquino is no different from former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who facilitated not only the entry of new dirty energy projects but also the wholesale of state-owned energy utilities, especially hydro-electric power plants. The Angat Dam, one of the remaining government-owned and controlled hydro plants, is under threat of privatization. Privatization is the root of the energy crisis, this is what must be reformed,” said Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista.
Dulce reiterated that the government should develop and operate an affordable, indigenous and state-run renewable energy industry as a viable alternative to the promotion of dangerous and dirty energy sources, such as coal and nuclear power.
“The context of the worsening energy and climate crises is reason enough to dismantle EPIRA and put in place a state-run energy industry with particular emphasis on renewable energy. This will ensure not only the provision of clean and affordable energy sources, but also ensure the industry’s independence from the whims and dictates of private power producers,” he said.
Capitalizing on the energy crisis
Environmental group Greenpeace also questioned the midnight approval of the 100 MW coal-fired power project in Mindanao, saying that this confirms earlier suspicions that pro-coal business interests were out to capitalize on the current crisis to railroad government approval of such environmentally-sensitive projects that should have undergone better scrutiny.
The group said no proper assessment and review of other energy options for the island were conducted by the Department of Energy, which it charged of favoring coal power at the expense of clean and renewable alternatives.
“After suffering from the agony of blackouts, the people are now offered false solutions in the form of coal plants guaranteed to flagellate local communities with decades of pollution that pose an immediate and lasting threat to human health, local livelihoods, and the climate,” said Von Hernandez, Executive Director, Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
“After the President’s campaign promise to support the development of renewable energy and phase-out coal power plants prior to his election, we thought this administration would approach this problem with a greater measure of integrity and sophistication. On the contrary, he has allowed coal pushers in his team to overturn his pledge as evidenced by the DOE’s existing plans to build an unprecedented number of coal plants during his term. The President should be advised that each coal plant he builds edges out the opportunity for the people of this country to harness clean and renewable power,” he added.
A genuine consensus on energy solutions
For his part, progressive lawmaker Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna said there is a need for consensus on substantial issues and options during the upcoming Mindanao Power Summit. He appealed to organizers to come up with a truly progressive and appropriate consensus to address the power crisis, “And not make the summit into something like a token media event to legitimize old, ineffective and ready-made solutions.”
“Malacañang should be ready to face criticism on how it handled the crisis and be genuinely open to honest to goodness alternative measures to address the power problem,” he said. “There are three major policy issues that have to be discussed in the summit: 1. How to solve the crisis without jacking up electricity rates; 2. Will Mindanao go clean and renewable or stick to dirty fossil fuels?; 3. Whether privatization is still the correct policy framework for Mindanao.”
Casiño said he has already expressed his views on these points and that these needed to be expounded on in the summit. “For one, I believe that rescinding the contract between Therma Marine, Inc. which recently entered into an ancilliary power contract with the NGCP for its two privatized power barges, resulting in the dramatic escalation of prices of generated power, would provide the short term answer.”
He also said the government should take over the operations of power barges to ensure that they sell power at cheaper baseload prices instead of high ancilliary rates so that local power distributors can afford it, leading to the normalization of power supplies.
“There is still the availability of 390 megawatts in the Agus grid which would address the present Mindanao power shortage at least for the medium term. These are building the Agus 3 Hydroelectric project (240MW), the Baloi Plains flood control project that will activate 40MW of Agus 1 & the idle 60MW of Agus 2, and rehabilitation of two turbines (50MW) of Agus 6 – all totalling 390MW of available capacity,” he explained.
The lawmaker also pointed out that because of the Department of Energy’s inaction or neglect, this available source of cheap, clean hydropower (P3.00 / kwh) was sidelined in favor of the prohibitive cost of diesel-fired power barges (P10.40 / kwh but reportedly contracted at P14 /kwh) and coal (P6.95 / kwh) to solve the power shortfall, a bitter pill widely protested by Mindanao consumers, business (PCCI) and various sectors.
“We feel that this is not in accord with national policies declared under the Renewable Energy Law (RA 9513) to accelerate the development of renewable energy, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and the volatile global oil market, and prevent or reduce harmful emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change,” he said.
Coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel
According to Greenpeace, coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, wreaking environmental havoc, from coal mining that pollute water sources, to coal burning which releases toxins as well as greenhouse gases. Coal is also the main driver of climate change whose catastrophic impacts include extreme weather leading to floods or drought, and rising sea levels.
The group insisted that there is no such thing as “clean coal plants” and that there are no commercially available technologies that can remove mercury, a deadly neurotoxin, which accumulates in the environment and in the food chain, or carbon dioxide which causes climate change.
Before the Lenten break, the DOE confirmed that four coal plants and one coal power plant expansion are in the pipeline for Mindanao. One of the plans was approved after Lent, with President Aquino promising to expedite the construction of the facility.
Last November 2011, the government gave the go signal for operations to a coal plant in Sarangani, and earlier in July, Aquino was guest of honor in the inauguration of another coal facility in the Visayas.
” Should the other projects in Mindanao push through, President Aquino’s administration would have approved more coal plants than any of his predecessors,” Greenpeace’s Hernandez said.
“Pres. Aquino is correct when he said that he inherited this Mindanao ‘power crisis’ from his predecessor. However, he also inherited and actually supported the Renewable Energy Law, whose implementation is currently languishing under the DOE. Aquino has a real opportunity to transform Mindanao’s power development plans into truly inclusive, sustainable development, given the island’s ‘gold mine’ potential for renewable energy,” he said.