Business group, environmentalists nix increasing power cost in Mindanao

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/03 April) — Environmentalists and a major business group were one in saying that the government should adopt strategies to maximize the power generating potential of Mindanao’s hydroelectric plants instead of increasing the cost of power in response to the daily power outages plaguing the island

Miguel Varela, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said raising the cost of power to augment supply would be “disastrous” to power consumers in Mindanao, “as is now being experienced in Luzon and the off-grid areas.”

The low cost of power “was the key driver in making businesses locate and thrive in Mindanao and would be the strong platform in achieving peace in the area,” Varela said in a statement.

The power crisis in the island needs “a blend of strategies uniquely crafted for the island,” he said, adding renewable sources of power “should be Mindanao’s core energy source.”

To complement this approach, PCCI vice president for energy Jose Alejandro said “diesel plants and power barges should remain to be in government hands as dispatchable reserve or standby power.”

Alejandro posited that the Agus complex in Lanao can raise its dependable capacity through dredging, rehabilitation and expansion efforts.

“The Agus complex has the potential to produce up to 800 megawatts of power for about nine months instead of only six months of the year, and a potential year-round dependable capacity of up to 350 MW,” he calculated. This supply capacity, he added, can be complemented by the 450-MW capacity of “slow speed” diesel-based power plants.

The proposed hydro-diesel mix will bring an increase of at least P1.00 per kilowatt-hour “in spread-out fixed costs,” said Alejandro.

Currently, the Agus complex can produce hydropower at P3.00 per KWH. He pointed out that this would mean that their proposed hydro-diesel mix approach would bring power generation cost to only P4.00 per kilowatt-hour, at the most.

“Mindanao consumers will only pay for diesel when they run during the summer,” he said.

Renewable energy

In an online interview, local environmentalist Carl Cesar Rebuta agreed that the generating capacities of the Agus complex and Pulangi complex in Bukidnon “have not been maximized.”

“In the case of Pulangi IV in Maramag town, Bukidnon it is expected to generate 100 MW but at present, this power plant only contributes 25 MW because of heavy siltation of their reservoir,” said Rebuta.

He added that while the island is 60- to 70-percent dependent on hydroelectric plants, the national government should look for alternative sources of energy.

“Why not explore the possibilities of harnessing other renewable sources of energy, like solar or wind?” he said.

Rebuta said heavy dependence on hydroelectric sources of power may have “repercussions.” He cited the case of the San Roque dam in Northern Luzon which released water at the height of typhoon “Pepeng”, in October 2009, inundating communities along the Agno River basin, mostly in Pangasinan.

He also cited that some power dams had to be closed last year to the El Niño phenomenon.

Coal as last resort

Although PCCI admitted that “coal plays an important role in the generation mix,” it said government must consider coal-fired power “only after fully developing all the potential hydroelectric power sites in the islands.”

“The high power cost (of coal) will overwhelm Mindanao consumers,” the PCCI statement said.

Environmentalists all over the world consider coal as the dirtiest source of power.

According to a report of Earthjustice released on February 1 this year, “coal ash, the leftover waste from coal-fired power plants, contain arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, selenium and many other chemicals can cause (certain cancers) and damage nervous systems and organs, especially (among) children.”

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm based in California, USA that advocates the people’s right to a health environment.

“Coal as the dirtiest power source would only (aggravate) the climate disaster we are experiencing now. Coal is the biggest contributor (of) the bad carbons,” said Rebuta.

Jean Marie Ferraris, team leader of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan (LRC-KsK) Davao Office, linked the reported power crisis to the projected power demand of large-scale mining firms.

“There is enough energy supply in the country if not for the mining industry,” said Ferraris.

In a statement posted on its website, LRC-KsK quoted Mindanao Electric Power Alliance chair Vicente Lao’s projection late last year that “the bulk of the power demand from the mining industry will cause a shortage by 2015 since the island will need an addition of at least 1,500 MW, 1,000 MW of which will be consumed by the mining corporations.”

“Energy sovereignty would still be the vital resolution to (the) energy crisis where people have the freedom to resolve for a sustainable energy generation, distribution and consumption,” Ferraris said.

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, today called on the House energy committee headed by Batanes Rep. Dina Abad to fast-track House Bill 5405 or his proposed One Million Solar Roofs Act as well as other initiatives to address the Mindanao power crisis and looming shortage in Luzon.

“We are urging the Energy committee to hold hearings during the Congress break to tackle the bill and other legislation to address the power crisis. This will get the ball rolling for renewable energy as the long term and sustainable solution to the power problem,” Casiño said in a statement.

“We will also closely coordinate with the office of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago who filed a similar bill in the Senate (SB No.2751), so that we will have a faster and stronger push for the One Million Solar Roofs because this can really be a big help in solving the crisis at the earliest time possible,” he added.

Casiño had earlier urged the government to take over two power barges owned by Therma Marine Inc. as an immediate solution to the power outages in Mindanao. (Cong Corrales with reports from H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)

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