Editorial: Staying liquid

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Sunday, March 23, 2014


DEVELOPMENT is the proverbial Catch-22 situation: leave resources untouched, the people suffer; cater to settlements, deplete resources.

“Sustainable development” is supposed to solve this dilemma. Progressing at a pace that meets present needs and secures future generations demands stewardship of resources that need time to renew.

Since 1993, the United Nations (UN) has declared March 22 as “World Day for Water” to highlight the intricate balancing of growing human populations and finite resources. In 2014, the UN’s theme for World Water Day focuses on the interrelated resources of water and energy.

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The pressure to address inequities of water distribution and utilization, as well as the urgency to come up with a green economy that is both water- and energy-efficient for the sustainability of the planet, was addressed by a three-part special report, entitled “Power trip: a water story,” which Sun.Star Cebu ran last March 20-22.
Guzzling but still parched

Cherry Ann T. Lim reports in the March 20 special report, “Not all power plants are created equal,” that geography and rainfall patterns make Cebu one of the most deprived in groundwater and surface water resources. Thus, Cebu’s leaders and residents must balance demand for and supply of water.

To prevent the depletion of Cebu’s groundwater, the National Water Resources Board passed a resolution in 2006 to “limit or stop” well-digging in some areas of Mandaue, Cebu City, Liloan and the whole island of Mactan.

Given that freshwater is a prerequisite for survival but also severely threatened, World Water Day reminds citizens to practice not just conservation but also management to ensure continued supply in the future.

Freshwater scarcity also focuses attention on the ways communities choose to generate electricity. Different ways of power generation require varying volumes of water, with natural gas being the most water-efficient.

However, the first part of the Sun.Star Cebu special report series notes that coal-fired power plants, which are cheap and the largest source of electricity in the country, use a lot of water and emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, which, in turn, reduces potable water supply and contributes to stronger storms and bigger calamities.

More renewable energy sources, such as biomass, solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal and ocean energy, must be tapped.

It’s complicated

Shifting the country’s energy mix to reflect less dependence on non-renewable sources and more on the renewables dominates green discussions and debates. Realities differ in communities.

In the second part of the series, “Fish, fuel and freshwater,” written by Lim and published last March 21, community leaders and residents welcome local operations of power plants for providing livelihood and free water, as well as adding to barangay revenues.

For instance, Cemex Philippines, which operates Apo Cement Plant, a 66-megawatt (MW) diesel-fired power plant in Barangay Tina-an, Naga, has been distributing free water to residents 16 hours daily for the past five years. The barangay secretary said this water supply, used by residents for washing, is what the community expected from the company.

The barangay captain of Libertad in Bogo City, site of the Libertad Natural Gas Power Plant operated by Forum Energy Philippines Corp., is more concerned about the community’s share in the natural gas revenues than in methane leaks or the plant’s effect on water resources.

“Some 95 percent of the natural gas in the Bogo project is methane, whose global warming effect is 21 times that of carbon dioxide,” reports Lim.

Officials of power plants operating in Cebu denied competing with communities in using groundwater sources, saying they opt for technology that is “environment-friendly” and not destructive to local resources. For instance, in its 200MW coal-fired power plant in Naga City, Kepco SPC Power Corp. uses water treatment technologies to produce freshwater from seawater for use in its boiler.

According to the latest monitoring by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau, none of the power plants in the Cebu list
has violated the Clean Air Act and the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004.

The lone dissent comes from environment advocates. A Sanlakas Cebu officer cited the findings of medical experts who found “up to 2,500 cases of pollution-related respiratory tract infection in Cebu” and the dearth of fishes in Naga due to pollution, reports Lim.

Desired but unreachable

Cebu’s lack of natural resources and the high cost of tapping renewable sources impede the adoption of environment-friendly options.

“Solar power is not cheap, which is why its use is limited,” reports Lim in the last part of the series, “Failed promise of renewables,” published on March 22.

Solar energy consumers in Gibitngil Island off Medellin and Pangan-an islet of the Olango Island Group are prohibited from using TV sets, DVD players, refrigerators and flat irons to prolong the life of the solar system, which consists of solar panels and batteries. However, residents violate this rule.

The high cost of replacing solar batteries turned the solar power project of the Pangan-an Island Cooperative Community Development and the Department of Energy into a failure. The Cebu Electric Cooperative has not operated its hydroelectric plant in Barili for two years due to a conflict with the town in prioritizing Mantayupan Falls for irrigation and ecotourism, rather than power distribution.

Yet some renewable advocates are undaunted. Amihan Energy Corp. will put a 200MW windmill project as it believes Cebu is one “of the best three spots in the whole Philippines for wind power.” An Amihan official contests the claim that coal is cheap due to the “hidden costs” on the environment and people’s health.

Cebu’s sustainable development will be ultimately decided by communities and industry players, who must not miss the water-energy nexus highlighted by World Water Day.

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

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