Editorial: Coming back down to earth

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Sunday, April 27, 2014


SINCE its start in 1970, Earth Day on April 22 has progressed from a movement that channeled protest against war to promoting the conservation and sustainability of the environment.

According to the Earth Day Network website, the environment movement that began in the United States became global in 1990, reaching 141 countries and elevating the environment to the world’s attention.

Yet, while the environment movement has mobilized civil society and pushed governments to create laws to ensure ecological sustainability, implementing these measures have brought to light setbacks, constraints and challenges.

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Last April 22-23, Sun.Star Cebu ran a special report series by Cherry Ann T. Lim that focused on the dilemma of promoting clean energy in the country.

Resuscitating biofuels

“Clouds over biofuel,” the first of the two-part special report series, “Clean ride,” published last April 22, focused on the myriad challenges facing the Filipinos’ shift fromfossil fuels to biofuels.

“Biofuels are seen as low-carbon, renewable and biodegradable alternatives to fossil fuels like diesel and gasoline,” wrote Lim. However, inadequate local production compels oil firms to import bioethanol to meet the10-percent bioethanol blend for all gasoline grades set by the Department of Energy (DOE), in keeping with Republic Act 9367 (Biofuels Act of 2006).

Importation drains foreign exchange and subjects the country to world market fluctuations. Ironically, bioethanol puts the country in the same dilemma created by dependence on fossil fuels. Used to produce bioethanol, sugarcane is a crop that has limited attraction for farmers and investors.

Central Visayas, of which Cebu is a part, has no refineries for producing coconut methyl ester (CME) or biodiesel. It costs more than gasoline and entails additional costs when blended with diesel.

The special report concludes that the country’s low productivity and high production costs must first be surmounted before the National Biofuels Plan 2013-20130 can be fully implemented.

Some stakeholders see better dissemination of information about the biofuels program can spur investment and production.Yet, the ongoing debate whether the energy derived from biofuels is more than the energy consumed in producing it feeds skepticism over the future of biofuels. Bearing the brunt of the costs of biofuel production will be the poor of countries with limited resources, such as the Philippines.

Jumpstarting the green

To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, the 2012-2030 Philippine Energy Plan proposes in its Fueling Sustainable Transport Program to “convert public and private vehicles from diesel and gasoline to compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and electric power,” reported Lim in “Rocky road for green vehicles,” published last April 23.

It’s a multiple-obstacle course to convert green targets to accomplishments.

Cebu has limited resources for CNG, having no commercially operating CNG bus and only one commercially viable CNG field in Bogo City.

There’s more success in locally implementing the DOE’s auto-LPG program. However, conversion of taxis from dependence on gasoline to LPG has also been affected by the rising cost of LPG and the resulting decrease of fuel savings. Other problems of LPG units involve lower fuel efficiency, higher maintenance costs and complaints of LPG’s adverse effects on the driver’s health. As a result, many taxi drivers are returning to gasoline.

Problems hound, too, the shift to electric vehicles. After an information campaign to promote the DOE’s Electric Vehicle Program, only the local government units (LGUs) in Bogo and Talisay in Cebu expressed interest. Yet, even Bogo wants first a demonstration of the e-trikes, which are costly and will involve the LGU in initially assuming a loan that will later be repaid by e-trike owners.

Private sector involvement in the piloting of the e-trike has led to innovations and experiments, which has to yet draw widespread LGU and public support. Kinks to be addressed include the large amount of cash or a financing scheme required for acquisition of an e-trike, higher rental rate of the e-trike compared to the gasoline-fed version, and the need for municipal legislation permitting only e-trikes to ply for public transport.

Ironing out these kinks concerning biofuels and green vehicles will help put the country closer to realizing its earth-friendly goals.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 28, 2014.

Opinion

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