By: M. M. Sadiwa
For the past years, Filipinos have consistently been saying NO to the construction of coal plants in their local communities. In 2008, the province of Antique was declared a “No coal plant province” by Governor Salvacion Z. Perez. In 2012, communities in Olongapo rallied in the streets to say “No to coal in Subic.” In 2015, due to the pressure from the farmers, churches, academe, communities, civil society groups inside Congress and across the country to protect the delicate ecosystem of Palawan, the City Government of Puerto Princesa, bowed down and adopted a resolution opposing the construction of DM Consunji Inc. coal-fired power plant in Palawan. In 2016, 300 Catholic priests in Batangas led the fight against the construction of JG Summit Holding’s 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Bgy. Pinamucan Ibaba, Batangas. In 2017, while the people of Sual, Pangasinan scored its greatest victory with the decision of Phinma Group to defer its construction of a 900-megawatt coal-fired power plant in their town for 8 years, the youth eco warriors led the protest march in Atimonan, Quezon to oppose the third power plant in their province. Today 2018, Bohol province joins the fight as their heritage is threatened by the construction of coal plants. The Bohol Clean Energy advocates the need to shift to renewable energy by passing resolutions and moratoriums on the establishment of carbon intensive and fossil-based technologies.
As the list of provinces saying NO to coal continue to grow and gain strength, education and enlightenment are slowly awakening the hearts and minds of many individuals about the ill effects of coal. Armed with just their voices and strong conviction to protect their homes, children, lives and livelihood, the awareness against the ill effects of non-renewable energy like coal is rising. Though with the completion of more than 1,000 MW of renewable projects last 2016 under the Feed-in Tariff System (FIT) of the RE Law, renewable energy still lags behind fossil fuel because of its higher capacity in producing power for the country. A study made last December 2014 showed the share of renewable energy in the power mix in MWh was down to 25.6%, while the share of the total installed capacity in MW declined to 32.8%.
Why they say yes to coal?
The present administration favors coal as they find it the most viable and cheapest source of power that can be given to the people for a very low cost. Despite the steady growth in the county felt in the 1st quarter of 2018, thanks to the injected $10 billion foreign direct investments (according to First Metro Pres. Rabboni Arjonillo), employment, manufacturing and the others, the notion that coal is the fastest solution to accelerate industrialization and growth in our country still holds. According to Fitch Group’s BMI Research, coal-fired power plants will be the primary driver of growth in the country’s power infrastructure segment in the next 10 years. In a recent survey by the Department of Energy (DoE), in 2016, it showed that coal accounted for 47.7% of the country’s power generation sources, 24.2% from renewable energy, 21.9% from natural gas and 6.2% from oil-based fuels. In terms of installed generating capacity, coal accounted for 35.3% in Luzon, 32.1% in the Visayas and 33.8% in Mindanao, while renewable energy made up 27.5%, 47.9% and 40%, respectively. These coal-fired generation projects will support investment and construction activity in the power infrastructure segment until 2021. However, DoE’s projection included the country’s need of 12,300 MW more in generating capacity by 2030. Thus, an increased production from coal mines in Visayas and new mines in Mindanao are seen as a solution. A Poland based research firm also noted the production of coal in Semirara Island in the Visayas, where Semirara Mining and Power Corp. is, will help increase coal output by one-third in volume to reach 16 million metric tons in the next two to three years. As a result, the Philippines will reduce its importation of energy as it makes use of its own source of energy. As of now, twenty-five (25) new coal-fired power plants are awaiting or under construction all over the country.
But there is a choice
Despite the report made by United Kingdom-based consultancy Wood Mackenzie stating that in the next two decades, it will still be coal-fired power projects that will dominate in the energy markets of emerging economies in Asia like the Philippines,
more and more Filipinos are still saying NO to coal.
There is always a choice when harnessing energy. And that choice to choose renewable energy over non-renewable energy will still not affect the growth of a robust country like the Philippines.
If we are to help in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius above industrial levels, together with the world, the Philippines must stop building more coal-fired power plants. If we don’t want a record of 2,410 premature deaths per year (according to a Harvard study) due to air pollution from coal operation alone, then the better choice is to use renewable energy.
Renewable energy is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas, its extraction and burning to produce energy causes too much emission of carbon dioxide in the air. Carbon dioxide (CO2 ) in the atmosphere causes less sunlight to escape back into space and when its trapped, CO2 causes our planet to warm. This causes climate change and the erratic behavior of the atmosphere (el nino, el nina, more typhoon, earthquake, tsunami and extreme flooding due to heavy rains.) All these natural calamities causes the government millions and billions of money worth of damages excluding the loss of life. When fossil fuels are burned, harmful gases like nitrogen and sulfur oxide are also released into the air causing air pollution and smog which causes lung diseases as well as neurological and developmental damage in humans and other animals (according to US Information Administration 2017). Taken into account also are the damages brought upon by coal mining as it contributes to soil erosion, water pollution and loss of biodiversity.
Shifting to renewable energy sources like hydropower, geothermal, wind, solar and even biomass (wood, solid waste) is the better choice because they do not directly emit greenhouse gases. Not only do they cost less to construct, like the construction of the largest Solar Plant in Concepcion, Tarlac with 150 megawatts (MW) solar photovoltaic (PV), which was built at a cost lower than that of a coal-based power plant, but the construction of this big solar farm will also improve lives as it will produce enough power to supply the entire province’s needs.
Economic value of RE
Not only is renewable energy more beneficial to the environment and a solution to mitigate climate change, it has more economic value than anyone could measure. It is FREE and CLEAN and it is a sustainable source of energy that replenishes on its own. It sustains all life forms by providing clean air and unpolluted water. It also provides thousands of jobs to the community on a long term basis. And because it is harnessed in remote places, the chances of providing more employment opportunities to the local people increases consistently. According to Greenpeace, by 2030, the country could see 6.3 million jobs created in renewable energy. And if the government would create more policies and stronger regulations for renewable energy, then the economic opportunities will increase furthermore. Even the Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Carlos Jericho L. Petilla believes that the Philippines could do it and emerge as the most aggressive country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) region when it comes to RE development. As of now, Petilla said the country is already getting around 400 megawatts (MW) from wind; 50 MW from solar; and over 100 MW hydro and biomass.
Renewable energy changes lives forever. It reaches the farthest and the poorest community of people and gives them free access to energy to change their lives for the better. With 80% of the country’s total population still living below poverty areas in rural places and in mountains, rice fields, islands, the chance of them receiving solar powered lamps are life changing. Various civic organizations are helping the poor have access to solar powered light like the salt lamp bottle project that aimed to light up 1 million homes. More so, around 40,000 poor families without electricity are slowly getting access to solar energy under the Access to Sustainable Energy Project grant agreement signed by the LGU Guarantee Corporation (LGUGC) and the World Bank. The access of households to solar energy was supported with $3 million from the Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid (GPOBA), $12.8 million from the European Union and an additional contribution from the Department of Energy of the Philippines.
Renewable energy is vital in food production. Last May 5, 2018, the first and biggest solar-powered water irrigation system in Luzon was inaugurated in Llanera, Nueva Ecija. Benefiting 200 farmers, this solar-powered water irrigation will support the rice production in the highland areas of the mostly rain-dependent Llanera town.
Not only would Renewable energy eliminate the oil and gas shortage, which could end war eventually, it will directly impact the consumers as they can save money on their utility bills. RE’s impact is strongly felt on trade also because with the switch to renewable energy, reducing fuel imports can improve trade balance and improve the GDP of any nation.
They said NO too
The Philippines is not alone in saying NO to coal. Other greater and bigger nations are following suit with China reducing its coal production and consumption, and banning the construction of some new coal plants. This came after finding out the coal’s impact in China was linked to about 670,000 premature deaths.
Because of the shift to renewable energy in the US – Arch Coal, the second-largest coal miner in the US and Peabody Energy (the world’s largest coal company) filed for bankruptcy. And as of May 9, 2018, newly elected Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarodo announced a nationwide ban on fossil fuels. This is part of his plans to create a decarbonized society to meet the demands of the Paris Climate Agreement.
With the 48% increase in solar capacity in Asia, the cost of solar and wind energy will in no time compete with energy from fossil fuel sources. The present administration can help boost the RE industry in our country and lead us in investing more in green sources of energy to create more jobs. This move can start a new trade with the US, Germany, China, and India on renewable energy technology, capacity and financing. The European Union has set its goal in acquiring 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. While the US will be transforming their nation from a carbon-intensive economy to an energy-based economy.
The Philippine Senate has already voted unanimously to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change just last March 2017. Under the agreement, the Philippines, under President Duterte’s leadership commits to cut carbon emissions by 70% 2030. This green decision hopes to spark the construction of many RE plants around the country and forego all plans for coal fired power plants.
7,107 ways to harness clean and free energy.
The Philippines is not only blessed with a rich biodiversity but also 7,107 island that are all sources for renewable energy like solar, wind, hydro, bioenergy, and geothermal resources. This fact only shows that in producing energy for the nation, we Filipinos have a choice on how to do it and where to harness it. Take for instance the Philippines wind potential of 70,000 MW which alone can supply the entire country’s energy needs. Strengthening the capacity of RE and utilizing these resources with the support of the present administration will lead to a growth in Philippine economy and will finally give the consumers the rightful access to a clean energy system.