MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/07 April) – Are the rotating power outages being experienced in many parts of Mindanao part of a supposed drama to lead us into believing that the island is on the brink of a severe power crisis?
No less than Secretary Lualhati Antonino, chair of the Mindanao Development Authority, has said that the power outages, if unavoidable, can at least be minimized if the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines uses the “untapped capacity” of the Agus and Pulangi hydropower complexes. She has even asked the House committees on energy and Mindanao affairs to investigate the curtailment scheme being implemented by the NGCP.
Antonino said the outages “should not be that worse because there is an untapped 65 megawatts from state-owned hydropower plants.” (MindaNews, March 11, 2012)
Nothing has come out in the media about Antonino’s request for the House investigation into the island’s power situation. With Malacañang having scheduled an Energy Summit, her request may have become moot and academic in as far as Congress is concerned.
Another development, one that preceded the summit, is the reported “midnight approval” of the Environmental Compliance Certificate for a 100-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Mindanao. In a statement this week, the environment group Greenpeace said the “hasty approval…confirms earlier suspicions that pro-coal business interests were out to capitalize on the current crisis to railroad government approval of such environmentally-sensitive projects that should have undergone better scrutiny.”
No one may blame the proponents of coal-fired power plants for advancing their interests. But no one can blame Greenpeace too for implying that the unnamed company exploited the alleged power crisis in order to obtain an ECC. If it’s true, as Greenpeace claimed, that coal-fired power plant projects in Mindanao have yet to undergo better scrutiny, then the certificate is at least questionable.
The reported issuance of the ECC came even if the government is yet to listen seriously to calls to craft an energy program that will harness the full potential of renewable sources of power like solar and wind.
In fact, the Department of Energy is putting on hold the implementation of the Renewable Energy Law while apparently fast-tracking the approval of coal-fired power plant projects. With these facts, no one can blame Greenpeace and other groups for suspecting that conspiracy may be behind the power outages.
But regardless of the real cause behind the power outages in Mindanao the government is well advised to seriously consider the wisdom of tapping Nature’s forces as part of a long-term energy program. The country has plenty of coastal and open flat areas that are ideal for wind energy while solar energy can be harnessed in practically all parts of the country.
Adopting alternative energy sources can be done in a gradual manner. For instance, cities and towns can start by erecting solar-powered street lights. Residences and businesses can follow in stages.
These measures may not mean totally getting rid of our reliance on power provided by commercial providers. But at least we will no longer be held hostage one hundred percent by their greed and insensitivity, and we will no longer agonize under the inconsistency of a government that professes concern for the environment but welcomes dirty energy sources like coal-fired power plants. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno writes mainly on the environment, human rights and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)