Sanchez: Solarlandia

First, the good news. Negros Occidental has no threats of possible power shortage, according to former Energy Secretary Carlo Jericho L. Petilla.

Petilla was in town recently for the inauguration of the 46-megawatt biomass power plant in Kabankalan City. The power plant marks Universal Robina Corp.’s entry into renewable energy. Half of the power plant’s output will be used by URC’s sugar mill while the other half will be allotted to the national grid under a 25-year operating contract with the Department of Energy.

According to the former Secretary, the Kabankalan 49-MW power plant can provide sufficient electricity to Negros Occidental, using bagasse, a by-product of URC’s sugar mill capable of producing 9,000 tons daily. Well, maybe not, since to be totally self-sufficient, the province has to generate at least 200 MW. But it’s getting there.

Still, the better news is that Petilla dubbed Negros Occidental as the country’s “center of solar power.” He noted that a French company will put up a 132-megawatt solar plant in Negros Occidental.

Petilla got carried away. It’s not 132 MW but 100 MW. The first of these plants is a 30-MW facility in Victorias City, Negros Occidental.

Urbasolar has an 11 percent market share in the French solar space and covers all aspects of the value chain in the photovoltaic industry, from production of raw materials to the advanced smart grid applications.

Alors, these Europeans! How can anyone not love them? The 100-MW project will increase power to the Visayas grid, which may also benefit Luzon through the two island’s power inter-connection.

Then there’s the German firm Juwi and its local partner Negros PH Solar Inc. expected to build its 140-megawatt solar power plant in Barangay Felisa, Bacolod City.

Further north in the province, the construction of a $175-million solar power project should have started in Cadiz City by now, projected to be the largest in Southeast Asia. The 100-MW project is being undertaken by Soleq, the solar power arm of the Equis Funds Group, Asia’s largest energy and infrastructure specialist.

Under Petilla’s watch, the DoE wants to increase solar capacity in the Philippines to 500 MW under the feed-in-tariff (FIT) system. The FIT regime is a form of incentives for renewable energy players. Feed-in tariffs offer cost-based compensation to renewable energy players, among other perks.

The FIT rate approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission, the power regulator, are as follows: P9.68 per kilowatt-hour for solar; P8.53 per kwh for wind, P6.63 per kwh for biomass; and P5.90 per kwh for hydropower projects.

Negros Occidental alone is poised to go beyond the FIT target of 500 MW. San Carlos Solar Energy (Sacasol), the country's first utility scale solar farm, began construction in September of 2013 and currently delivers over 35 million kW hours to the national grid.

Then there’s Buskowitz Development Inc., a German firm, which plans to build a solar farm targeted to generate 700 MW of power in the first district. So far, no updates on its plans.

Still, these developments on renewables are enough to recast the province from Sugarlandia to Solarlandia.

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