FOUR bishops of the dioceses in Negros issued a collegial pastoral statement strongly opposing coal in Negros Occidental on Thursday, November 22.
Bishops Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos, Patricio Buzon of the Diocese of Bacolod, Louie Galbines of the Diocese of Kabankalan, and Julito Cortes of the Diocese of Dumaguete made the collegial declaration in preparation for the solemnity of Christ the King on Sunday, November 25.
In the statement, the four church leaders called on the people to stand firm together in Negros -- with each other and with civic leaders -- to oppose any coal-fired power plants and phase out those still in operation.
They urged Negrenses to collectively affirm the message of Pope Francis: “Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments, and increased levels of poverty.”
In the Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis, the bishops cited the highest church leader’s call for ecological conversion, for humanity to reduce consumption of coal and other fossil fuels that are major contributors to climate change, and to embrace an energy future that is clean, renewable, and equitable for the health and well-being of the planet and for future generations.
“Let us live Laudato Si,” the bishops said, appealing to the people to heed the call to ecological conversion and to transformative renewable power that is shared by all.
The collegial pastoral statement is just one of the many efforts of the Roman Catholic church in Negros Occidental to push for a coal-free island.
The Diocese of San Carlos, in particular, has been stepping up initiatives to gather support from other sectors through conducting dialogues and forums that underscore the need to protect and conserve the rich environment in Negros Island.
Alminaza earlier expressed his opposition to the proposed 300-megawatt coal-fired plant San Carlos by SMC Global Power Holdings Corp. in a position letter issued by the diocese in October.
In an interview, Alminaza said by asking around especially those having a say on the issue, they found out that the project is already a “done deal” as far as these people are concerned.
San Carlos City Mayor Gerardo Valmayor Jr. clarified there is no request for support yet from the San Miguel, thus, it is not true that the City Government has already issued any permit or approval for the proposed project.
The mayor said they are still weighing the impacts of the proposed development.
“I still believe in the power of dialogue, talking to people and really trusting that the key people here are reasonable,” Alminaza said.
“Hopefully, they will listen to reasons,” he added.
On Wednesday, the Provincial Board (PB) committees on energy and environment conducted a joint meeting on the proposed ordinance disallowing the exploration, establishment, and operation of any coal-fired power plant in the province.
As of now, the PB cannot make a stand yet, citing the need to consult first all involved sectors.
Thus, the move to declare Negros Occidental a coal-free province remains a proposal unlike in Negros Oriental, which already adopted Executive Order 9 preventing the entry of coal-fired power plants there.
Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. remained firm on his stand against the entry of coal, while Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said he is open for having mix sources of energy.
The four dioceses, for this matter, are appealing to local government units and electric cooperatives all over Negros not to entertain anymore any proposition of a coal-fired power plant elsewhere.
The collegial statement urged Negrenses to safeguard the gains and success achieved in terms of improving renewable energy source and huge projected power excess.
It stated that there are already nine solar power plants, eight biomass plants, and 10 hydropower plants all over Negros, resulting in a combined capacity of 579.43 megawatts.
The four dioceses have been increasingly demonstrating that sustainable energy practices work for them and their respective communities.
The statement also said decentralized rooftop solar energy systems in the dioceses of Bacolod and San Carlos, for instance, showed how small-scale distributed renewable energy generation is climate-friendly, sustainable, and affordable.
It added the local churches of Dumaguete and Kabankalan are equally committed to seriously implement the Laudato Si challenge of the Holy Father and are finding concrete ways to safeguard the environment.
By hosting various “green” energy farms mostly solar, Negros Occidental is dubbed as the renewable energy (RE) capital of the Philippines.
In 2017, National Renewable Energy Board Chairman Jose Layug said Negros has biomass energy sources that can serve as the baseload on top of solar and hydropower.
With its renewable energy sources, the Department of Energy has positioned Negros to become an entirely “green” island by 2030.
The local church claimed that not only is renewable energy functional and accessible, it is also competitive and more affordable.
The four bishops believed that coal-driven power will never truly be cheap, especially when we factor in the numerous environmental, social, and health costs associated with its usage. In fact, solar power is increasingly becoming the lowest-cost energy option.
They said with the continuing emergence of storage solutions, renewables will provide greater resiliency and energy independence, immune from the unpredictability of global commodity prices.
Moreover, the collegial statement pointed out that even entire countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Marshall Islands, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and others have established a growing international alliance to phase out coal.
It said that Asia is on a similar path with China’s coal consumption continuing to fall as it invests increasingly in renewables, while India aims to install 100-gigawatt of solar energy by 2022.
The United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has also urged the phasing out of fossil fuels, stating that coal-fired electricity must end by 2050 to address climate change and its dangerous impacts.
“And yet, the dark specter of fossil fuels remains with a proposed coal-fired plant in San Carlos City, hanging over our future, exacerbating climate change, threatening our resources, our environment, our health, and our sustainable development,” it added.
The local dioceses also underscored the impact of coal on pollution and health.
They said that each year, coal-fired plants pump out 146,000 tons of PM 2.5, a form of particulate matter roughly 40 times smaller than a grain of sand.
The collegial pastoral statement said coal plants also pump out 197,000 tons of PM10 pollution, a form of particulate matter or dust that is small enough to slip through a typical mesh filter.
“Studies have long linked these forms of pollution with increased rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases, translating also into billions of pesos in health care costs and lost productivity,” it added.
The issue of having coal generation in Negros Occidental is not new.
There have been attempts before to establish plants in the province including those in Pulupandan and Cadiz City but all did not push through.
The church continues to urge Negrenses to work together to increase access to clean, renewable, and sustainable energy.
“Let us affirm our commitment to stewardship and to a clean development path that says no to coal and yes to renewable energy technologies that are accessible to everyone, especially our most vulnerable brothers and sisters,” the four bishops said.
“We are one with our Holy Father in issuing the urgent call to ecological conversion,” the bishops added in their statement.