NEWSPAPERS buried the ho-hum feature, deep within the inside pages: Ilocos Norte could help Cebu, candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. offered candidate Gwendolyn Garcia. How?

Cebu’s power comes from two sources: One is coal-fired plants. They pollute big time. Oil fueled plants is second. They import oil from a volatile Middle East. Laoag could run a tutorial on wind power.

End of story. No context. No background. Unfortunately, this wasn’t just election trivia. It had facts and irony.

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At the tutorial’s core towers 23-storey tall fiberglass windmills, with variable pitch and speeds, in Bangui, Ilocos, Norte. They’re Southeast Asia’s first and largest commercial wind farm.

These Danish-designed turbines have redrawn the landscape. The place resembles wind farms in Spain, Denmark, Germany, California, Italy, India-and Patagonia. The farm feeds into the North Luzon grid. Ilocos Norte residents get a deduction in their monthly power bills.

Yet, Cebuanos could have had similar bragging rights. So, what happened? Look back and weep.

In 1997, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory published a study on Philippine wind power potentials. “Cebu had good-to-excellent wind corridors,” it found. So did the northwest tip and high interior of Luzon and the coast along Catanduanes and eastern Mindanao.

Total potential was 70,000 megawatts. “Tapping even 10 percent of these good-to-excellent corridors, could generate 7,600 megawatts of grid-connected power. That was about equal to total power then.

“Cebu could well be in the forefront, said a local editorial (April 1998). Officials must act decisively. But they’re often the last to know. “We wuz trashed – right from the start,” Sun.Star Cebu noted.

Not Ilocos Norte officials. They whipped up the technical studies, picked potential sites, etc. They wedged the application into a short list of 22 other projects for Japan’s Bank of International Cooperation.

“It is one thing for Ilocos Norte to beat Cebu in landing a P2.9 billion credit line to launch a state-of the art wind farm,” Sun.Star Cebu wrote end of 2001. "But it’s another for Cebu’s smug leaders not even to know ‘we wuz trashed.’”

Why did Cebu never even get to the starting line?

Officials’ vision didn’t extend beyond old costly oil or coal-fired plants, as in Naga. Few realized that “clean renewable energy from wind farms” had increased ten times since 1990. These systems leapfrog over “dirty technologies.”

Nothing can paralyze more than obsolete windmills of the mind, this column noted then. The first Ilocos turbines would go up in 2002.

Turbines were 43 percent cheaper than 1990 versions. Average cost of wind generated power slumped from 44 cents (in 2001 dollars) to 4-6 cents. The European Union decided “renewables” will generate 22 percent of the continent’s electricity by 2010.

Ilocos Norte crossed the finish line. Their officials had vision and grit. Ours remained blinkered and laid back. As the farm cranked up, Sidebar added: “And so it came to pass. ‘We wuz trashed’ again – and still didn’t even know it.”

Cebu remains locked today into an obsolete carbon-based system. But coal and oil supplies are being depleted. “We have this window of 20 to 25 years to convert over to renewables,” Worldwatch Institute estimates.

What window, our officials ask late in the day. Perhaps, we should accept Laoag’s offer of a tutorial. “We wuz trashed” yet again-–and wonder what the uproar is all about.

(juanlmercado@gmail.com)