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CSOs, clean energy advocates alarmed over coal projects tagged as ‘projects of national significance'

Duterte's EO30 questioned as anomalous coal projects given priority status

By Center for Energy, Ecology and Development
October 31, 2018

QUEZON CITY – Civil society organizations once again raised concerns over the priority status given to numerous coal projects through the executive order issued by President Rodrigo Duterte, enabling the DOE-led Energy Investment Coordinating Council (EICC) to drastically hasten the approval process for particular big energy projects.

Most recently, the EICC has granted certificates of energy projects of national significance (CEPNS) to two coal operating contracts (COCs) of the Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC), to the dismay of anti-coal advocates and consumer groups nationwide.

"The successive declarations granting EPNS status to various coal projects in the country confirms our suspicion that the Executive Order 30 issued by the President is a mere ploy to railroad heavily-contested dirty energy projects despite scrutiny and opposition from consumers and host communities," said Gerry Arances, convenor of the Power for People (P4P) Coalition, and Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development.

"Since the issuance of EO30, we have warned against the possibility of the CEPNS to sweep various issues surrounding energy projects under the rug," Arances stated. "The two COCs recently granted EPNS status will contribute to Mindanao's worsening coal problem, as stranding is already taking place in its regions due to an oversupply of approximately 700 MW of coal and hydro," added Arances, citing the recent IEEFA report on stranded coal assets in the Philippines.

"The entrance of more coal is ridiculously dangerous since power producers, but more importantly power consumers have been paying almost P3 Billion from 2014 to 2016 alone because of underutilization," he continued. "This will push electricity rates further up, to the detriment of power consumers in Mindanao," Arances warned.

In their policy brief regarding the President’s Executive Order 30, CEED pointed out that the order appears to be “unconstitutional,” “grants unbridled discretion and abuse of discretion,” and in effect, “expedites coal expansion.”

“The definition of EPNS is too broad and vague granting the EICC an unbridled discretion on what is “significant” to be considered as an EPNS,” said Atty. Avril De Torres, CEED Head of Research, Law, and Policy Program.

“The three coal projects certified as EPNS sets a bad precedent. Now, carbon-intensive coal projects which are also heavily contested and opposed and gets us farther from our NDC can be declared as nationally significant and be fast-tracked,” Atty. De Torres added.

Among the coal projects given priority status was the US$3.0-billion 1,200 MW coal-fired power project in Atimonan, Quezon, which was the subject of "anomalous" dealings with Meralco, who owns majority shares in Atimonan One Energy (A1E), the project's proponent.

"It was just last year when Commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) were suspended after giving undue advantage to Meralco and A1E by allowing them to skip the Competitive Selection Process (CSP) mandated by law to ensure the least cost option for consumers," says Atty. Aaron Pedrosa of the Sanlakas multisectoral coalition. "It is revolting that DOE through Sec. Alfonso Cusi would then certify the project as EPNS despite the corruption surrounding it," said Atty. Pedrosa.

"EO30 gravely puts the interest of power producers and distribution utilities like Meralco above the interests of consumers who pay their monthly dues and communities who are set to host these dirty energy projects," he continued. "Not only is coal drastically becoming more and more commercially unviable, it has historically led to the destruction of the climate, and the deterioration of communities' health, livelihood, and environment," Pedrosa added.

"Nakalulungkot na binasbasan ng Pangulo ang planta sa kabila ng pagpapalayas, panlilinlang, at kawalan ng kabuhayan na dinanas naming mga taga-Atimonan dahil sa proyektong ito," said Reynaldo Opalda of Atimonan, Quezon. ("It is saddening that the plant now has the President's blessing even with the displacement, deception, and destruction of livelihood the people of Atimonan has suffered because of the project.")

"Kung ngayon pa lang ganito na magnegosyo ang A1E sa aming lugar, paano pa kaya kapag umaandar na ang planta?" Opalda asked. ("If this is how A1E conducts business now, what can we expect when the plant starts operation?")

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