Mindanao coal plant now operational

"This plant will make the Mindanao grid less dependent on hydro power," Lotilla said.

Seventy percent of Mindanao's electricity requirement is produced by nine hydro plants located in Bukidnon and Lanao provinces.

He said the US$ 305 million power plant built by State Power Incorporated, has reduced the dependence on hydro plants by 16 percent and on oil-based power plants by 13 percent.

"This make the Mindanao grid less vulnerable to El Niño and other climatic factors," Lotilla said.

The construction of the power plant was plagued with opposition since it was made public in 2001.

Environmentalist groups Green Peace and Task Force Macajalar opposed its construction arguing it posed a threat to the ozone layer.

Task Force Macajalar, a local environment watchdog, also said that burning coal could pose a serious health risk to thousands of fisherfolk living in the coastline of northern Mindanao.

"Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and the main generator of global warming and climate change. It is not cheap energy because it poses serious environmental and health risks,|" said Task Force Macajalar spokesperson BenCyrus Ellorin.

But Mindanao's hunger for power, which the Department of Energy estimates to grow by six percent a year, drove the Philippine government to support the project.

In 2003, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources gave State Power Incorporated, an environmental clearance.

Lotilla said with the upgrading of the transmission line between northern and southern Mindanao to be completed in 2008, the island's energy needs will be solved.

He said Mindanao needs 1,200 megawatts of electricity by the end of 2007. Mindanao's total output—without the Mindanao Power Plant—is estimated to be at 1,200 megawatts.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo failed to arrive at the 55-hectare plant site in Villanueva town due to bad weather this morning.

"The President tried to land twice but unfortunately the rain prevented her," TV journalist Ces Drilon who acted as the emcee told the audience that gathered inside a huge air-conditioned tent.

Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma who was supposed to lead the prayers also failed to attend. STEAG said he went to Zamboanga City to attend the installation of  Romulo Valles, the new Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga.

Business tycoon Lucio Tan was among the hundreds of guests and dignitaries who attended the ceremony.

"We are proud of the support given to us by the Philippine government, " STEAG president Andreas Rubin said.

He said the power plant is designed to fill the power requirement of Mindanao for the next 50 years.