YOUTH and civil society organizations staged a silent protest at the Provincial Capitol of Negros Occidental in Bacolod City on Earth Day yesterday, April 22, against a proposed 300-megawatt (MW) liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plant in San Carlos City, a project the groups say would only bring climate and environmental harm and high-priced yet unreliable electricity.

The LNG plant is a project of Reliance Energy Development, Inc. (Redi), a wholly owned subsidiary of energy giant San Miguel Corp. (SMC). In 2021, president Ramon Ang announced SMC will be converting its then proposed coal plant with LNG as a way to prove true its commitment to clean energy.

"SMC seems to think it is doing us a favor by shifting from coal to gas, when the reality is it is merely switching lanes while driving us down the same road to climate destruction," Bianca Montilla, co-convenor of Youth for Climate Hope (Y4CH), said in a statement.

The groups claimed that proponents and backers, including government authorities, have touted natural gas -- more appropriately fossil gas -- and LNG as a clean alternative to coal.

While less carbon-intensive than coal, however, fossil gas and LNG emit methane throughout its value chain, a greenhouse gas with 80 times more heat trapping capacity than carbon dioxide over a span of 20 years, they said.

"Negrosanons receive some of the worst impacts of the raging climate crisis. We have barely recovered from Typhoon Odette, yet Typhoon Agaton came and once again wreaked havoc. There is no place here for a fossil fuel project that will only doom us to a worse climate situation," Paul Daniel Serrano of Y4CH said.

Negros Island is known as the renewable energy capital of the Philippines, yet its people barely benefit from the cheap and clean electricity that renewable facilities in it produce as electric cooperatives opt to purchase power from fossil fuel plants outside the island, the groups lamented.

The groups are concerned a gas project will make it more difficult to amend this situation.

"Just this month, Ceneco hiked its rates because the price of imported coal keeps soaring. With SMC's plant, fuel will also be coming overseas and exposed to various volatilities. Why force consumers to bear the burden of high power prices when we have an abundance of affordable renewable energy we simply need to work on maximizing?" Grid Langco of Konsyumer Negros said.

The groups had also been present at the first public scoping of SMC for the LNG project in March where the proposal was met with grave concern by local stakeholders.

"We continue to urge [SMC] president Ramon Ang not to hinder our hope for a 100 percent renewable energy future, and for SMC to do its part in preserving our Earth by cancelling its plans for fossil gas and LNG development - not only here in Negros, but the rest of the country. That is what a genuine commitment to clean energy will look like," Diocese of San Carlos Bishop Gerry Alminaza, convenor of REpower Negros, said.

For Gerry Arances, convenor of broad energy advocacy and consumer group Power for People Coalition (P4P), "we are risking our climate ambitions, the environment, and the welfare of consumers and affected communities for an energy source that is not even able to assure cheap and reliable electricity.”

“SMC and all backers of LNG should know they are doing the people of Negros, Batangas, or the Philippines no favor,” he added.

The youth-led group laid their case in a position paper, signed by 22 local youth organizations, which will be presented to the Provincial Board of next week.

"Three years ago, the provincial government stood with the youth on the right side of climate action by granting our cry for an order that will keep coal out of Negros Occidental. We now ask it to do the same: declare all fossil fuels, be it coal or gas, unwelcome in this province," Krishna Ariola, also of Y4CH, said. (PR)