CLEAN energy and sustainability groups on Monday, August 1, said unlocking renewables should be the priority of the local government and stakeholders alike for the benefit of Negrense consumers and the environment.

The groups, in a press statement, said that San Carlos City Mayor Renato Gustilo earlier challenged those opposing the 300-megawatt (MW) liquefied natural gas (LNG) project of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) and calling to revoke the resolution of non-objection (Rono) issued by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of Negros Occidental to cut off their electricity if they do not want to make use of fossil fuels, since power used in the province is contracted from coal-fired power plants in Panay and Cebu.

“Mayor Gustilo is on point in saying that the electricity that powers our homes actually comes from coal plants outside Negros Island. That, residents of San Carlos and the province have no choice but to rely on dirty energy is something which we have been lamenting about for long, and is precisely the problem that we are asking him to help address,” San Carlos Bishop Bishop Gerry Alminaza said.

Negros Island is dubbed as the Philippines’ renewable energy (RE) capital, with its installed power generation plants producing nearly 100 percent RE. Electric cooperatives, however, contract power from plants outside Negros, the press statement said.

Alminaza, who also serves as convenor of advocacy group REpower Negros, said that “we produce large capacities of clean energy, yet our people are not even able to fully harness and benefit from this.”

“Allowing LNG to enter our shores diverts our attention from maximizing truly sustainable energy while subjecting host communities and the environment - including the bountiful marine life of Tañon Strait - to pollution and disturbance, as well as an intensifying climate crisis,” he added.

The groups said that natural gas, more appropriately fossil gas, has been subjected to local and global scrutiny for negative impacts on the climate and environment.

Being a fossil fuel, its extraction, transport, processing, and burning also emit high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions especially methane - a gas which traps heat in the atmosphere 80 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year period, they said.

Development of new LNG projects also risks disturbing marine life from shipping activities, destruction of marine and coastal ecosystems from construction, and risks of water, air, and land contamination, they added.

For Alminaza, moreover, there is no assurance of more affordable energy costs with LNG, especially with gas and other fossil fuel prices rising to record highs with disruptions to the global supply chain.

“Unless we shift to using renewables to power our homes, Negrenses are bound to continue suffering from fossil fuel power that is costly to both our pockets and our environment,” he added.

The bishop and concerned groups have been vocal in opposing the SMC LNG projects and demanding a recall of the Rono from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, which, as the groups maintain, was prematurely and unjustly issued to the project.

A letter filed by the groups opposing the Rono, led by Alminaza, think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (Ceed) and local church and environmental stakeholders, stated that "provided the latest findings and evidence of the impact of methane, emitted throughout the fossil gas value chain, it is untrue that fossil gas is a clean alternative.”

“Along with key marine biodiversity areas, coastal communities are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the expanding fossil gas industry. The climate crisis requires a more immediate solution and true energy transition requires a rapid and more ambitious approach. Energy development should veer away from a fossil gas detour that locks the country into unsustainable and dirty energy," it added.

The groups maintained that there is no sufficient basis or studies, such as a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), for the Provincial Board to approve a Rono, and thus "collectively assert our rights as legitimate stakeholders of the proposed project and demand the urgent retraction or revocation of the resolution enacted by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.” (EPN with PR)