Energy and environment think tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) on Friday raised concern over the exemption of Aboitiz Power’s Therma Visayas, Inc. (Aboitiz-TVI) expansion in Toledo, Cebu from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2020 coal moratorium, and said that government agencies must not pave an easy path for the project at the cost of communities, the environment, and consumers.
The comment came after the exemption of TVI’s 169 MW expansion from the coal moratorium was met with concern by local and environmental stakeholders.
“DOE needs to explain why the project was exempted in the first place. The moratorium does have the unfortunate loophole of allowing expansion projects, but only if they had already been firmly planned at the time the moratorium was issued - and Aboitiz-TVI announced tentative plans only last year,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of CEED.
The project has also received an endorsement to conduct a system impact study.
“The DOE and other government agencies cannot just say okay to more coal and call it a day. Aboitiz-TCI will expand capacity by almost half of its current 340 MW. It is irresponsible to assume that past environmental and socio-economic assessments suffice to capture impacts of this expansion. It needs to go through all rigorous permitting processes,” Arances said.
According to CEED, air pollution is an example of a highly hazardous yet insufficiently assessed impact of coal-fired power plants.
An air quality assessment of select coal power plant sites in the Philippines published by CEED in December 2023 revealed substandard ambient air quality in project locations, with pollutant levels exceeding both the outdated standards of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and standards set by international agencies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, and World Health Organization.
“High concentrations of coal-produced pollutants including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide are known to contribute to premature deaths, illnesses, and environmental degradation. The multiplicity of coal or other pollution sources in one location also exacerbate these impacts - and it’s no secret that there are already five operating coal power plants in Cebu. Communities will bear the brunt of impacts for any neglect on this end," Arances said.
CEED also questioned assumptions that the expansion will help avert power supply challenges in Cebu, and added that approval of new coal capacities in fact contradict the DOE coal moratorium's objectives of improving power sector security and reliability.
“Supporters of coal expansion say that the project will help keep Cebu from suffering a scenario similar to the days-long blackout in Panay earlier this year. They fail to mention that coal plant outages are a primary cause of that blackout, creating billions in losses for businesses and local governments and causing massive inconvenience to consumers. It is unwise to bring in more coal in Cebu or anywhere else in the country when we could instead tap renewables that are now far more predictable and reliable,” said Arances.
The concerns are echoed by local groups alarmed by continued coal developments in Cebu.
"We don’t need more coal in Cebu. What we need is accountability from the suffering forced onto communities and consumers by coal operations, an end to coal’s pollution, and a shift to using cleaner energy sources that can actually address our needs for affordable and reliable electricity," said Teody Navea, member of the Power for People Coalition in Cebu. (PR)