Coal not a wise long-term power option – expert

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 March) – Local governments have been cautioned against entering into contracts for coal-processing and coal-fired power plants as mounting global fears on operating nuclear power plants may prop up the price of coal soon and using it may end up more costly.

Catherine P. Maceda, adviser to the Senate committee on climate change, told a climate change conference at the Marco Polo Hotel here Saturday that the coal’s promise of cheap power may have been negated by the mounting preference for sources other than nuclear energy in the aftermath of the nuclear meltdown in Japan.

“Eventually, the price of coal may increase. This may even become too expensive for local governments to pay or operate in the long run, aside from being dirty to the environment,” Maceda said.

The conference served as a prelude to the worldwide Earth Hour activity on Saturday which was highlighted by a simultaneous switching off of electric lights for 60 minutes.

Maceda said coal was a “bad” preference for a source of power despite its cheap price.  “We should rather develop more renewable sources of energy, because these are ours, and sooner, because of the law on renewable energy, prices would go down.”

She told local chief executives to look at the terms of the contracts with companies offering to build coal-fired power plants. “I hope that they would not enter into long term contracts, because we would expect more interests in developing renewable energy sources because of the law.”

“And we would expect prices to become affordable in the long run,” she said.

“They (local governments) should demand for clean coal if ever they would enter into contracts,” she added.

Arturo Milan, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Aboitiz-owned Davao Light and Power Co., said that Aboitiz Power’s proposal to put up a coal-fired power plant in Davao City was indeed the cheapest alternative that would enable the Davao Light to meet the power requirement of its franchise area and the annual 6.1-percent increase in power demand of this city.

Aboitiz Power has assured Davao residents of developing clean coal energy, aside from bringing the city councilors to the Steag coal-fired power plant in Misamis Oriental for an ocular visit at the five-year-old facility.

“What we are interested in is to have a baseload that is dependable and cheap,” Milan said.

The Davao Light’s 306-megawatt requirement for the household and industries was supplied by the National Power Corp. (260 mw) and the remaining 46 mw by the Hedcor (42 mw by Hedcor Sibulan and the 4 mw from Hedcor Talomo). The Hedcor is a sister company engaged in power generation.

The Davao Light is the distribution company of the Aboitiz group covering the cities of Davao and Panabo of Davao del Norte, and the municipalities of Braullio Dujali and Santo Tomas.

Milan told the conference that the successive episodes of the debilitating impact of the El Nin͂o occurrences in 1992, 1996, 2004 and 2008, have ruled out hydropower as undependable power sources.

The El Nin͂o occurrences forced severe power blackouts and power rotations among factories or purchases of power generation sets. The Mindanao grid gets 53 percent of its supply from the hydroelectric power plants along the Agus River of the two Lanao provinces, and the Pulangi power plant in Maramag, Bukidnon.

“I am confused. When we raised our rate by eight centavos, everybody was complaining.  And when the El Nin͂o happened, the public has questioned us why we cannot supply them with power. And when a coal plant is being set up here to give us cheap power, there are those who oppose it,” Milan said.

He said a Belgian company has proposed to put up a 20-mw solar energy generation. “Aside from it is only 20 mw [sic], the feed-in tariff is also high at between P20-P26 per kilowatt hour,” he said.

“If we get this power source, and computing it with the other power sources that we have, we would expect an addition of P2.50 to the current P6.68 per kwh,” he said.

The new electric rate would be near the rate of P8.20 per kwh collected in the Visayas franchise and Cagayan de Oro City.  Luzon collects a higher rate of P11.40 per kwh.

“We have to get more sources of power so that the growth of Mindanao would not be stifled by the inability of the distribution companies to provide the power requirement,” Milan said.

Davao City’s power requirement grows by an average of 6.1 percent yearly, “and if not for the rotation brownouts last year, it could have been eight-percent growth,” he said.

Davao Light has a supply of 306 mw while its peak demand is 297 mw.

“This is the peak power consumption under normal conditions, without the El Nin͂o,” Milan said.

Citing industry sources, he said the company would need 10 mw for every one degree rise in temperature.

During the El Nin͂o, temperature rose by five degrees. “That would need at least 50 mw,” he noted. (MindaNews)