THE public scoping of a 300-megawatt (MW) liquified natural gas (LNG) combined cycle power plant in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental held Wednesday, March 16, 2022, was met with alarm from local stakeholders and energy advocacy groups concerned by environmental and economic implications of a fossil fuel project entering the country’s renewable energy (RE) capital, the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (Ceed) said.

The project is proposed by Reliance Energy Development Inc. (Redi), a wholly owned subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, convenor of broad clean energy consortium REpower Negros, said he would like to understand “why we are seeking to add a fossil fuel powered plant here in an island that is teeming with renewable power.”

Alminaza, who had earlier written to SMC President Ramon Ang calling for a stop to the project, questioned the additional 300-MW more capacity, saying existing RE facilities have not been fully maximized by Negrosanons.

“By using fossil gas, this plant goes against the hope of Negros becoming 100-percent renewable energy-powered," he added.

Youth advocates, meanwhile, said Negros, which boasts of an installed generation capacity of nearly 100-percent renewable energy, has an imperative to maintain its status as an RE hub given its vulnerability to impacts of rising global temperatures due to fossil fuel emissions.

Paul Serrano, convenor of Youth for Climate Hope (Y4CH), said the recent Typhoon Odette did not spare Negros from its wrath even though it mainly produces clean energy.

“In the face of a raging climate crisis, we need to ramp up the decarbonization of all sectors of society, especially energy. A new fossil gas plant is in complete contradiction to this,” he added.

A youth organization actively promoting climate justice and action, Y4CH was among the groups instrumental in derailing a coal plant proposed in the same city in 2019 -- the fifth battle won by Negrosanons against coal in the last two decades, the press statement said.

“Today's Negrosanon youth are inheritors of a legacy of victories against fossil fuels - a legacy that the generations before us protected. The stakes are even higher now. We will do our best to guard the hope of a clean energy future," Y4CH co-convenor Bianca Montilla said.

The P18.5-billion LNG plant, which would be sitting in the San Carlos Ecozone facing the Tanon Strait and features four 75-MW generators and its own receiving and LNG regasification facility, targets to begin construction by the third quarter of 2022, the group also said.

Grid Alila of Konsyumer Negros asked if local consumers will actually benefit from this project.

"If Redi-SMC intends to get their fuel supply from far-off suppliers, will that not make electricity from the power plant costly?" Alila said.

“Is it worth exposing the Tanon strait to disturbance and pollution? We have too many questions surrounding this project, which make it harder to make sense of why we can’t just focus on further developing the renewable energy resources we already have,” he added.

With worries mounting, concerned groups had asked for the public scoping to be postponed as no information and education campaign (IEC) required of the proponent firm reached them prior to its conduct.

Lawyer Avril De Torres of energy think-tank Ceed said as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources requires, the IEC should at the minimum have among its audience local church constituents, interest groups, and nearby households and industries.

“These are legitimate stakeholders who stand to be impacted by the development of an LNG plant in San Carlos,” he said. “We have reason to believe that this was not what happened, as we’ve heard from a significant number of stakeholders who are not aware of any such IEC.”

Several other sectors also raised concern over the project, including fisherfolk, mangrove conservationists, barangay kagawad and health workers and teachers, among others.

Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson earlier assured that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) will soon discuss the proposed LNG power plant project in San Carlos City.

All stakeholders will be given the opportunity to be informed about the proposed project, Lacson said, making the clarification amid reports that the project will be met with opposition by some environmentalist groups.

"In the first place it is not yet being discussed (since) it is still with the SP and they will be inviting the proponents,” Lacson said, adding that they will study if the complaints have basis.

“San Miguel said they won't go for coal (powered plant) because it has become expensive (and) there are other forms of energy like this one (LNG),” the governor said.

He said SMC will always decide on the business and economic side and that it is always conscious of the environment being an “A-listed company.

“You don't expect San Miguel to be violating rules especially on the environment. They're way above it already,” Lacson said, adding that representatives from Redi-SMC will be invited to present the project with the Provincial Board.