May 25, 2018
QUEZON CITY – Energy groups and Atimonan community members scored Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi for considering Atimonan One Energy, Inc.’s (A1E) “irregularity-ridden” Atimonan coal power plant as one of the first energy projects to be classified as an Energy Project of National Significance (EPNS) under Executive Order 30 (EO 30).
“Secretary Cusi’s positive consideration of the Atimonan coal power plant project as an EPNS is a huge blow to the Atimonan community – especially to Atimonan fisherfolk and farmers,” said Atimonan fisherfolk member Joseph Benedict.
“Atimonan residents have suffered deception and harassment, on top of loss of livelihood and health, in the push for the hasty and irregular approval and construction of its coal plant project in Atimonan,” said Benedict.
“The Atimonan community, together with civil society organizations, have been putting up a long fight against this coal project – their impending classification as EPNS tells us the government is not on our side here,” said Benedict.
Under EO 30, permit applications of EPNS-classified projects shall be acted upon by concerned government agencies not exceeding a 30-day period; otherwise, said permit applications are automatically deemed approved.
Sanlakas Secretary-General Atty. Aaron Pedrosa expressed alarm that this mechanism now appears to be a tool for prioritizing and legitimizing “dubious and destructive” energy projects like the proposed Atimonan power plant, a project with a long record of violating processes established to protect the interests of electricity consumers and host communities.
Pedrosa cites Meralco, through its power generation arm Meralco PowerGen Corp. (MGen) that wholly owns the Atimonan One Energy (A1E), as a ‘habitual violator’ of procedures and human and ecological rights.
Atimonan fisherfolk member Joseph Benedict recounted instances of irregularities in the procurement of community consent to the project.
“On 2012, Atimonan community members, including fisherfolk, were made to be on board the Atimonan project because it postured as a Liquefied Natural Gas project. On 2014, however, the project turned out to be of coal plants instead. However, no new public scoping was made in response to this new project, and the conducted public hearing had suppressed opposing community members, like my fellow fisherfolk, from voicing out our resistance,” said Benedict.
Benedict stated that this kind of suppression of opposition from communities is on top of instances of harassment and land grabbing made against fisherfolk and coconut farmers alike.
According to Sanlakas Secretary-General Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, this irregular conduct of procuring local consent violates Sections 26 and 27 Local Government Code, provisions which require a meaningful consultation with local government units, nongovernmental organizations, and other sectors concerned as regards any project.
Pedrosa also stated that aside from irregularities in the process for local consultation with the people of Atimonan, MGen’s coal project has also been involved in violating the process for submission of Power Supply Agreements (PSAs) in the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), a process which seeks to ensure that electricity consumers are given the cheapest, most competitive source of electricity.
“MGen, along with other Meralco-affiliated coal companies, have been the subject of cases filed in the Ombudsman for their alleged collusion with officials from the ERC,” said Pedrosa.
“Clearly, MGen has formed a habit of gross disregard for law and for community welfare,” he added.
Energy research institution Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) claimed that the consideration of the Atimonan project as one of the first possible EPNS highlights how EO30 can be utilised to advance a fossil fuel-dependent energy development path for the next 20-25 years in under 30 days.
“Globally, the trend is towards retiring existing coal-fired power plants, whether HELE or not, and to stop further implementation of coal projects. Coal projects are increasingly becoming obsolete and economically unviable,” said CEED Legal and Policy Officer Atty. Avril De Torres.
De Torres cited studies by energy economics institutes which emphasized findings on governments worldwide that have been adopting policies of pricing coal projects according to surfaced environmental, health, and economic costs of constructing and maintaining coal projects.
According to De Torres, these resulting changes in the global energy market put coal projects at the risk of being stranded assets and it is the public at large that will be paying for an economically unviable coal project.
“The classification of coal plant projects as an EPNS goes against existing policies, laws and global trends that favor renewable energy projects over fossil fuels,” said De Torres.
“It’s frightening to think that because a coal project can be considered as EPNS, it can be decided in less than a month to be our source of energy for the next decades,” she concluded.