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Coal as major power source is here to stay

President Rodrigo Duterte is one pragmatic man when assessing the rising energy requirements of the Philippines. Despite the hysteria created by self-proclaimed environment advocates, Mr. Duterte sees the Philippines continuously tapping coal sources to generate power.

The President in clear terms posed no objection to the use of the fuel in the Philippines during a visit to Sarangani province in late January this year for the groundbreaking of the coal plant of Alsons Consolidated Resources Corp.

“But for as long as the most viable fuel is coal and cheapest so that the power can also be delivered... to the people at a much lower price, then we’ll have no other alternative except to upgrade the technology to its fullest―to limit,” says Duterte.

“At this time, whoever is the president of the Philippines would always contend with coal. There’s so much coal... that can be utilized by civilization for the next 50 to 70 years. And to be worrying about pollution, well, we just have to come to terms with that in our time, in our generation, it is really what it is. There is nothing you can do about it,” he adds.

Mr. Duterte called for a balance, acknowledging that coal was not the cleanest source of energy yet. “Wee would like to have a clean planet but that would be impossible really to insist on it because civilization needs to have light. We have to find that balance, not everything can be renewable.

Coal remains the most reliable source of baseload power in the Philippines. The fuel accounted for 45 percent of the country’s electricity output in 2015, with natural gas at 23 percent. Geothermal, hydro and other renewable sources contributed a combined 25 percent.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi knows the value of coal as a dependable source of electricity. The proposed energy mix until 2030, he says, will remain the same even after the Philippines signed the Paris Agreement on climate change last week.

“It won’t (change the mix). Our concurrence is with condition that we won’t sacrifice our energy source to meet the country’s demand,” the energy chief said.

Cusi noted the intermittent supply of power when some major plants undergo their regular maintenance shutdown. Philippine grids are often placed on an alert status, especially when major gas power plants are taken off from the main lines.

Inexpensive electricity

The Energy Department expects coal-fired power plants to provide inexpensive, reliable and competitively priced electricity that will result in significant savings for households. Sufficient supply generated by coal-fired power plants results in lower electricity rates, which in turn encourages more foreign and local investors.

Across the globe, coal is still the least-cost option for baseload power generation. The development of coal-fired power projects is still critical to the Philippines to ensure lower production cost to the manufacturing and industrial sectors.

Electricity from coal-fired power plants, meanwhile, are much cheaper than renewables given the feed-in tariff (FIT) and FIT Allowance (FIT ALL) rates paid mandatorily by by all electricity consumers.

The Filipino electricity consumers are held hostage by the imposition of a 20-year FIT and FIT ALL, an incentive given to renewable companies to encourage them to build renewable energy facilities. The rate is collected from power consumers long before they are able to enjoy the benefits of RE.

Wrong notion

Claims that coal is a dirty source of fuel is wrong. Coal-fired power plants have come a long way in terms of efficiency improvement, emissions reduction and adverse impact to the environment through the reuse of combustion by-products.

The misconception that coal is bad for the environment because it emits black smoke is no longer an accurate concern. With the advent of advanced technologies for coal-fired power generation, production of reliable, stable, cost-competitive and highly efficient supply with minimal impact to the environment is now achievable. 

The latest coal technology addresses pollutants and minimizes CO2 emissions. SMC Global Power, the power generation subsidiary of conglomerate San Miguel Corp., recently reported  that testing since January of its new clean coal technology power plant in Limay, Bataan, yielded emission results that were way below government and World Bank standard limits. Unit-1 of the Limay Plant consistently produced low levels of sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is dead serious in protecting the environment, requiring power plants utilizing coal to comply with stringent standards set by the Environment Management Bureau. Power plants must also secure Environment Clearance Certificates from the department before the construction and operating phases.

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Topics: Ray Eñano , Coal , power source , President Rodrigo Duterte , Alsons Consolidated Resources Corp.
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