Monday, April 22, 2019

Official: Banning coal in Negros Occidental remains a proposal

THE proposed ordinance disallowing the exploration, establishment, and operation of any coal-fired power plant in Negros Occidental remains a proposal, an official said.

Third District Board Member Manuel Frederick Ko, chairman of Provincial Board (PB) committee on energy, said the Provincial Government cannot make a concrete stand on whether to allow or not the coal generation in the province.

Ko, who led the joint committee meeting at the Vice Governor’s Office in Bacolod City Wednesday, November 21, pointed out there is a need to consult first the various agencies and groups, as well as resource persons, in order to have a holistic approach on the issue.

“Maybe we could start in understanding first the power outlook of the province before proceeding to the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the proposed ordinance,” he said, adding that “we will listen to all sides first before acting on it.”

The Office of the Governor earlier submitted to the PB the proposed ordinance declaring the entire province of Negros Occidental coal-free, clean energy, and environment-friendly province.

It was passed for first reading by the PB on October 24, and then referred to the committees on energy and environment.

Based on the draft ordinance, the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental follows the noble and brave examples of its government counterparts like Negros Oriental, Bohol, Guimaras, Cebu City, Ozamis Oriental, and South Cotabato.

“It vows to protect its people and its vast natural resources from environmentally unsound power generation technologies such as coal, by engaging and investing in responsible renewable energy initiatives such as, but not limited to, solar power, geothermal, hydro, and wind energy sources,” the ordinance stated.

The proposed ordinance also stated that there should be no coal-fired power plant and any environmentally unsound power generation technologies including fossil fuels in Negros Occidental.

The province shall use all its power to encourage initiatives and investments on clean, environment-friendly, and renewable energy sources and technologies.

“This decision has been reached after careful consideration of the public appeal for the Provincial Government to denounce any action that will endanger its rich natural resources thereby compromising the dignity, safety, health, and socio-economic well-being of the Negrenses, which is a primordial duty of the government,” the draft said.

It also said that the Provincial Information Office shall develop and mainstream education, and information campaign materials and activities letting Negrenses understand the ill-effects of coal and other destructive energy sources, and be more appreciative of sustainable impacts of renewables like solar.

It added the government promises to the people of Negros Occidental that its leaders, offices, and staff will be pursuing a “no to any coal-fired power plant in Negros Occidental policy” as it is scientifically proven to have harmful impacts on the environment and on people’s health and livelihood.

Ko said they will soon start the series of meetings with “vital” groups like the Department of Energy (DOE), National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, and local electric cooperatives that have the technical data needed.

He said the PB will immediately have the meeting with whoever signifies and responds first on its invitation.

“We will then hit the road running,” he said, stressing that “this will not be a guessing game especially on the technical side of the matter.”

The meeting was also attended by First District Board Member Rommel Debulgado, chairman of the committee on environment, and other members of the PB.

Among the attendees were Rodne Galicha, head of the Climate Reality Project, which recently awarded Negros Occidental as one of the champions of environmental causes and movers of climate change mitigation.

It can be recalled that San Miguel Global Power Holdings Corp. has expressed interest to put up a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant in San Carlos City.

While Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. remained vocal on its stand to have a “green” province, Vice Governor Eugenio has expressed openness on having a mix of energy sources in the province including that of coal.

One of the groups strongly opposing the project is the Diocese of San Carlos. It is currently gathering forces for its push to prevent the entry of coal and other “dirty” forms of energy in Negros.

In fact, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza earlier said they are coming up with a collegial statement against coal along with three other dioceses in Negros.

But for San Carlos City Mayor Gerardo Valmayor Jr., there is a need to weigh the impact of the project, thus, they are not issuing any stand yet.

Alminaza earlier wrote Lacson, asking if they can be present at the meeting to listen, as he claimed that “the people of San Carlos were not given the opportunity to speak on the issue.”

They have not yet received any response.

Ko, however, said there is no need to ask for permission as everybody is welcome to attend.

In fact, for the next rounds of meetings, everyone including the church representatives are allowed to speak and share their ideas.

No prohibitions

As this developed, an official of DOE-Visayas said the government does not prohibit coal as an energy source.

DOE-Visayas officer-in-charge Jose Rey Maleza said the agency has no preferences provided the construction and operation of that particular source is compliant to all local and national laws.

Maleza said the DOE's mandate is to provide a stable source of energy so there is no exemption set.

“If ever San Miguel complied with the laws but the local government opposes, the project won't push through,” Maleza said, “but if there's a need sometimes, we urge the local government units to reconsider as long as the standards are complied.”

In terms of renewable energy, the DOE has a commitment that a certain percentage of the supply should come from “green” sources to reduce the dependency on the foreign source which has a big effect to the economy.

Maleza said if there is a need to really have other energy sources due to the deficiency in the power supply, the agency made it clear to the local government unit the need to do so.

“But Negros Occidental, as of now, does not lack power. It is even surplus during the daytime because of solar,” he said.

DOE records showed that more than 50 percent of the total power requirements in the Visayas is supplied by coal and geothermal especially during peak hour.

Most power distribution utilities in the province source their supply from plants within the Visayas, some portions are from Luzon.


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