Getting our acts together

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Monday, March 24, 2014


EVEN singly, the electricity they can generate is no chump change. URC-Sonedco Sugar Mill alone can potentially produce 46 megawatts (MW), no mean feat by itself.

Three years ago, the geothermal company EDC closed down its Northern Negros Geothermal Plant because the steam resources within its concession area in what was once the strict protection zone of the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park can only generate about 5 to 10 MW, much lower than the 49-MW facility available in the area.

Negros Occidental currently needs 200 MW of power, according to Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. Is Negros Occidental going to concede to access non-renewable coal-fired plants to avert an energy crisis, to sacrifice the environment for fossil fuels so that we can use electricity for development?

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There’s no need to despair yet. According to Sugar Regulatory Administrator Maria Regina Martin, awarded biomass/power cogeneration projects among 19 sugarcane mills in Negros Occidental will have a projected capacity to produce 138.7 MW.

Not perfect, but the situation is not desperate. Like the cavalry to the rescue, aside from Sonedco, San Cárlos Bioenergy can produce 8 MW; First Farmers Holdings Corp., 21 MW; Hawaiian-Philippines Co., 8MW; Victorias Milling Co., 18MW; Binalbagan-Isabela Sugar Milling Co., 19.5MW; Roxol Bioenergy Corp., 4MW; Lopez Sugar Corp., 10MW; and Sagay Central Inc., 4.2MW.

All in all, if we can have biomass generation from Negros Island, Panay, and Luzon, the combined generation can reach 281.82 MW. Negros Occidental will contribute nearly half of energy from the energy biomass subsector.

Governor Marañon said that the agrofuel plants will use agricultural, market and forest wastes, citing biomass as a cheaper form of renewable energy due to its cheap feed-in tariff set by the Department of Energy (DOE) at P6.63 per MW-hour.

But let’s not get excited yet over the provincial power generation. The energy production is not ours, and our alone. Last year, DOE Assistant Secretary Daniel Ariosa Sr. said the agrofuel plants will stabilize the energy requirement in the Visayas area, with the expected boom in industries and economic activities in areas like Bacolod, Iloilo and Cebu.

How much of the power will remain to the host province remains to be seen. Negrenses on the western side of the island cannot afford to be greedy. After all, the Occidental side is currently getting its power supply from the Palimpinon Geothermal Plan at the Oriental side.

Of the top of the biomass co-generation plants, San Cárlos City will host the San Cárlos Solar Energy Inc. The City has the right coordinates for maximum solar radiation, while being less prone to cloud cover and enjoying more sunshine hours than the rest of the province.

Then there’s the solar thermal plant in La Carlota City, a P4.7 billion investment with its supply chain system expected to supply the national grid with 175,000 MW annually.

So while we can expect stiff competition from cheap imported sugar next year when tariff walls fall down, there’s no reason to wail and gnash our teeth. As a popular meme said over social media, when God closes a door, He opens a window.

Congratulations to the SRA and to Governor Marañon for rejecting a sugar-only future for the province. Yes, indeed, there is more to sugarcane than simply sugar.

*****

(bqsanc@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 24, 2014.

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