I WAS with the group of media practitioners in Toledo City yesterday for a plant tour on the newly opened coal-fired power plant operated by the Cebu Energy Development Corp. (CEDC), a consortium of the Aboitiz Group of Companies and the Taiwan-based Formosa Heavy Industries. The first of the three plants was inaugurated last Friday by President Arroyo.

The tour was organized by CEDC. CEDC assistant vice president Ed Satina, who happens to be my friend, acted as our tour guide.

We took the Naga-Uling Road going to Toledo City. The road is in good condition and properly maintained. But I’m afraid that the road might soon be damaged because of heavy trucks carrying tons of “anapog” (limestone) from various quarry sites in Naga and Toledo.

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The last time I visited Toledo was five years ago. Barangay Lutopan is now economically alive since the re-opening of Atlas Mining.

Situated in the vast area of the old Toledo Power Plant in Barangay Daan-lungsod, the CEDC coal-fired power plants can generate a total of 246 megawatts (mw) once all three plants are fully operational. As of this time, only the first plant is in operation, producing 82mw. It supplies 72mw to the Visayan Electric Company, while the remaining power generated is for the plant’s operation. The second plant will operate in June, while the third will be operational early next year.

The operation of these plants will practically solve the energy shortage in the province. The company can sell its reserve power to other electric companies in neighboring provinces in the Visayas region. Presently, the province has a shortage in electricity. We are dependent on the Leyte and Luzon grids.

Every time these grids bog down or their plants placed under preventive maintenance, we experience rotating brownouts.

In a press briefing, Engineer Satina assured the public, especially residents of Toledo, that the company has complied with all environmental requirements in operating these plants.

Contrary to claims of some environmental groups, the technology the company uses is not hazardous to the health and it has no negative impact on the environment. The company, which employs 1,200 workers, has a social responsibility in protecting the environment. Seventy percent of its coal supply is converted into fly ash and 30 percent become burn ash, which it dumps inside the compound. The company is also identifying some areas outside the compound for dumping sites.

Emission levels are being monitored 24/7 and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the local government of Toledo are furnished a copy of their monitoring report. The DENR can even access it online.

The coal-fired technology is the cheapest source of energy. It is still used in advanced countries, like Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and even the US. Coal is defined as a sedimentary rock composed predominantly of solid organic materials with a proportion of mineral matter. It is derived from the accumulation of plant remains in sedimentary basins and is altered to solid rock by heat and pressure applied during the basin’s development. Its quality varies according to the content of ash, impurities and volatile matter, which decreases as coal rank gets higher.

Worldwide, coal is a sought after energy source. It has the largest reserve and is often the cheapest of the fuel options.

Now that clean coal technologies are available, the demand for coal has remained steady despite the current stringent and standard on environmental concerns. The Philippines is largely a coal-consuming country with coal having the highest contribution of the power-generation mix at 27 percent in 2005.