Philippines energy crisis: Critiquing the critics
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Philippines energy crisis: Critiquing the critics


The spate of brownouts and prolonged power interruptions during the first half of the year in Mindanao have elicited diverse reactions from critics of fossil-fired power plants. 

They have either been silent or gone on record that the power interruptions were orchestrated to condition the public into accepting projects that these critics harped as environmentally destructive.

There is nothing wrong with their position. The problem is some of them are obliging themselves to become the harshest of opposition to a fault.

They are portraying the proponents of these power plant projects as evil incarnates and incorrigible profiteers and made false accusations and offered theorems that are now proven not only as untruths but also ridiculous.

This is not to say that fossil-fired power plants do no harm to the environment.  Every human and natural activity that produces energy also produces pollutants, we all should agree. It is how we measure, how we mitigate and how we prevent environmental destruction that are paramount.  Otherwise, this world will come into a standstill.

One does not have to look beyond south central Mindanao where a proposed 200-megawatt coal-fired power plant will soon rise. Coal is admittedly dirty.  So are all petroleum products. But without these energy sources, the world would have been in perpetual ice age.  Or is it so?

But such arguments are better left to scientists and their science. To the ordinary folks, truth and candour are what matters.

From the outset, opponents of the Southern Mindanao 200 (SM200) power plant project have been saying that the power produced by the plant will feed the power needs of Sagittarius Mines Incorporated.  They likewise claimed that Conal Holdings Corporation has deeper agenda: mining the coal deposit in Ned, Lake Sebu to feed the burner of SM200.  They likewise accused the company of eventually drying up the river in Seguil to feed their giant boilers. Additionally, they raised the specter of all living creatures in and around the plant ending up dead or mutated to scare the people from supporting the project.

Events that unfolded in the past several months have proven their fears as, well, just fears. For one, SMI has gone on record that it will build its own power plant – with a capacity of at least 350 megawatts.  Conal, is after all, not into the coal project in Lake Sebu.  It is food conglomerate San Miguel Corporation which expressed interest over the mine deposit and it too is planning to build a coal-fired power plant in General Santos City. These effectively demolished the arguments of the opposition against the project.

As I have repeatedly said, the power crisis could have been avoided had the government had foresight in addressing the need to generate power to meet ever-increasing demand in the Mindanao. The power industry reform act (EPIRA) of 1991 is a complete failure, especially in Mindanao.The government has failed to address the right generation mix and anticipate the increased demand for power in the island.  On the contrary, it abdicated its responsibility.

There is nothing wrong with renewable energy.  In fact, in a perfect world, if there is constant, steady and abundant supply, we should decommission ageing and antiquated diesel power plants. But we do not have rivers as powerful as the Yangtze River or the Colorado Rapids for hydroelectric power plants.  Solar technology is still very expensive and wind energy is unreliable.

As economic planner, the way to address this recurring power crisis is to have the right amount of generation mix with environmental care in mind. Development and protection of the environment can go hand-in-hand. The two can be balanced, and nature has its way of cleaning itself.

It is the irresponsible use of fossil fuel that is harming the environment. And some people are scaring others about it, believe me.