Possible cancellation of coal project in San Carlos lauded

BACOLOD. Some of the Negrense youth who joined the anti-coal rally at the Provincial Capitol steps in Bacolod City last year. (File photo)

THE Power for People Coalition (P4P), an umbrella group of clean energy advocates and power consumers, has lauded the pronouncement of San Carlos Mayor Rene Gustilo that the 300-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant project proposed by San Miguel Corporation (SMC) in the northern Negros Occidental city might be cancelled due to coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and other factors that caused severe delays.

The group, in a statement, said the announcement made by Gustilo during the city's Budget Forum on Monday, June 15, is a step forward in advancing clean energy in Negros.

Diocese of San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, who is a staunch supporter of coal-free Negros, said this development is indeed a welcome news for the people of the city and all groups within and beyond Negros who took a stand against coal.

Alminaza said Negrenses in the last few decades have fiercely resisted coal projects proposed in different parts of the island in recognition of the deadly impacts that coal will have and as a commitment to the care of creation.

"This news encourages us to continue striving for a future that is powered by clean energy," he said. "We hope that the City Council will take the lead in this ambition moving forward."

For various local groups, while the declaration is "a ray of hope," Negrenses will not be lax in resisting the threat of coal especially as the City Council has yet to announce the alternative project it plans to propose.

The local government must follow through with ambitious steps to cement the coal-free status of Negros, they added.

Griderick Alila, provincial coordinator of consumer rights group Konsyumer-Negros, said this will surely be celebrated by advocates, but it will not take away their vigilance and continuous work in pushing for renewable energy.

Alila said this is not the first coal project that was proposed in the island.

"We have learned from our long history of resistance against coal that only by putting in place frameworks and policies and demanding good governance we can ensure that Negros will remain coal-free," he added.

For Rodne Galicha, executive director of ecological faith group Laudato Si Philippines, they believe that it is always a moral responsibility of leaders to bring their constituents to a sustainable future.

"We respectfully urge the City Council to follow and formalize this executive decision through legislation. We are one with the Diocese of San Carlos, the Province of Negros Occidental and the whole community in their vigilance and advocacy to attain a healthful and balanced ecology for all while upholding the integrity of creation," he added.

Due to its abundant renewable sources, Negros has been considered as the renewable energy capital of the Philippines.

Renewable energy makes up as much as 97 percent of its installed capacity, the groups claimed.

In 2018, Negros Island's installed capacity of 682.9 MW far exceeded its peak demand of 349 MW.

Because of outdated grid structures and power supply contracts, however, much of the clean energy produced by the island goes to waste and none is used by Negrenses themselves, they said.

"We hope that the difficulties SMC encountered in bringing this project to life will serve as a wake-up call to proponents that coal is no longer a profitable business and is completely not needed in Negros," P4P convenor Gerry Arances said.

He said "it should also be a sign for the San Carlos City Council and the island's leaders to shift their focus instead to ensuring that the people of Negros would benefit from the abundant supply of clean energy available to them."

The groups are now looking forward to the "eco-friendly project" that Gustilo has announced and which "will be implemented next year" in replacement of the coal project.

The bishop said: "We hope this project is something for which we can all work together, and that it would genuinely safeguard the future of both our people and the environment."


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