June 22, 2019
QUEZON CITY – Religious leaders urged investors in the energy sector to back away from funding coal in the Visayas as the Department of Energy (DOE) called on local government officials and business groups to seek more power investors to sustain the growing demand in Visayan regions.
Bishop Gerard Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos warned against the apparent bias for coal in the DOE’s encouragement as it downplays the contribution of renewable energy to growth in Visayas, as it downplays the impacts of coal projects to the health and environment in the Visayan regions.
“As our province’s coal-free status is being threatened by the incoming provincial administration, we are alarmed as the DOE is not giving policymakers and the business sector the whole picture in terms of the costs attached to coal-fired power plants, and why it is not the better choice as opposed to renewable energy,” said Bishop Alminaza.
The Bishop previously called out Governor-elect Eugenio Jose Lacson for stating that he will not honor the ordinance declaring Negros Occidental as a coal-free province. San Miguel Corporation currently eyes the construction of a 300 MW coal plant in San Carlos City.
“In encouraging energy investments, the DOE should not just focus on bringing in new energy sources, but also the role of investments in improving the grid system and energy storage in Visayas to maximize and encourage more renewable energy sources,” Bishop Alminaza continued. “In failing to do so, it is basically implying that the Visayas should look to massive coal-fired power plants which harm our environment, health, and worsens the climate crisis.”
The Bishop stressed that DOE should be at the forefront of honoring the country’s commitment as co-signatory to the Paris Agreement. “I’m disappointed that in their strategic planning they don’t ‘think outside the box’ but are still stuck with the outmoded business model belonging to the first industrial revolution,” the Bishop noted.
“We need to calculate our energy needs within the framework of long-term economic advantage,” said Brother Tagoy Jakosalem of the Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR). “This means considering a monetary and non-monetary cost-benefit analysis of power investments for both coal and renewable energy,” he continued.
The Augustinian Brother urged the DOE and policymakers to not just present the ‘business’ side of the need to generate power, but to also show the “hidden” or externalized costs of coal. “The ‘profitability’ of these projects do not account for the costs related to pollution impacts, health-related issues, loss of ecosystems and livelihood, as well as exacerbating the effects of climate-related disasters,” said Jakosalem.
“We should manifest our ethical stand on this issue, no ifs and buts, but clearly on the side of truth supported by scientific findings; that indeed, there is a climate emergency - that affected the lives of people and nature,” Jakosalem continued.
Past experiences warn against coal in Visayas
Energy think tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) Executive Director Gerry Arances noted that coal should no longer be associated with affordability and energy security, following recent developments faced by consumers across the Philippines.
“In Mindanao, the rush of coal-fired power plants led to a surge in the prices of electricity, as consumers are obligated to pay for the abundance of coal plants providing not just base load of electricity, but also the peaking and intermediate loads,” said Arances. “The fear of averting brownouts in Mindanao has unfortunately led to an overabundance of coal plants in the area and the drastic increase in the cost of power, negating the low prices Mindanaoans used to experience with renewable energy.”
“Meanwhile, Luzon has suffered increased rates and power interruptions because of the underperformance of coal-fired power plants which underwent unscheduled maintenance shutdowns,” Arances continued.
Arances noted that the costliness, unreliability, and environmental impacts by coal-fired power plants are already being felt by Visayas, like in Ilo-ilo which has one of the highest power rates in the Philippines. “This is unfortunate given the high renewable energy potential in Visayas being taken for granted.”
Dr. Romana delos Reyes of the Coal-Free Negros Network pointed out that lack of power supply foisted on resisting communities, particularly Negrosanons, everytime coal-fired power plants are proposed. “This was done in the late 90s to the early 20s when we resisted the proposed coal plants in Bago, Silay, Pulupandan and Cadiz,” said delos Reyes.
Delos Reyes questioned the 8.8 percent increase in power demand which DOE Visayas Field Officer Maleza used to justify additional power supply in the grid by 2020. “According to the data that Maleza provided last February 2019, varies from 3.3 to 9.1 percent. Furthermore, using the date he provided which says that the peak demand in 2018 was 2053MW while that in 2019 is 2224, the increase was 8.3%,” she noted.
“The government should send the proper signals to deliver the most appropriate energy sources in specific areas,” said delos Reyes. “If they aim to bring in investments, they should provide the whole picture to ensure that those investments will not harm host communities, and will not burden consumers and end-users as was the case in the past.”