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Friday, March 1, 2024

First Gen CEO pushes ‘paradigm shift’ to reverse climate change

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Cagayan de Oro City”•Federico Lopez, the chairman and chief executive of the country’s largest clean energy producer First Gen Corp., sees the need for a “paradigm shift” in the way people think and behave to check the continued and worrying rise in Earth’s temperature.

“We can no longer measure our success purely by bottom line growth and shareholder value,” Lopez said in a speech he delivered on Feb. 28 at the 3rd Philippine Environment Summit in this city.

“My own measure of success will be judged by how well we can aid the decoupling of GDP [gross domestic product] growth from carbon emissions,” said Lopez who is also the concurrent chairman and CEO of Energy Development Corp., the largest producer of geothermal energy. 

“And on top of that, I believe it will be the role of businesses like ours to go beyond sustainability and into discovering creative new ways to improve and regenerate everything we touch: from our customers to our co-creators [employees, suppliers, contractors etc.], the Earth, communities and our shareholders,” he said.

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Lopez declared as early as 2016 that the Lopez Group would not invest, build or develop power plants fueled by coal, whose combustion emits massive amounts of carbon dioxide, one of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases being blamed for adverse global warming and climate change.

First Gen’s portfolio of power plants runs on geothermal, hydro, wind and solar which are renewable energy sources; and natural gas, considered the cleanest form of fossil fuel. 

“Every decision we make must consider the betterment of all stakeholders in that order. It no longer works the other way around if you consider shareholders the priority. I believe enlightened shareholders also realize that there are no jobs, profits or even remnants of shareholder value on a dead planet,” he said.

Lopez said that the continued warming, which is melting away at a faster pace the Earth’s permafrost like the Antarctic, could induce at least a three-foot rise in sea levels.

Citing new climate studies, Lopez said that “[m]any of them [permafrost areas] known to have melted only inches a year are now subject to ‘abrupt thaws’ as rapid as 10 feet in days or weeks.” He said “the fact that we are a coastal dwelling and archipelagic nation, the warming Antarctic should worry us even here.”  

The First Gen CEO, however, sees hope from the situation.  He noted that “[t]he climate crisis we face today is a golden opportunity for humanity to reexamine our way of thinking and begin rewriting the rules of how our world works”.

“This is why it’s high time we rethink, reimagine, redesign and rebuild how our world works. It’s a paradigm shift like the world has never seen before,” he said.

“How we get our energy, the design of our cities, buildings and homes; the materials we use; what we eat and how we grow our food; how we handle our waste; how we use and recycle water; our transport systems and what powers them; words like regenerative agriculture, permaculture, the circular economy, cradle to cradle, net positive buildings, the sharing economy,” Lopez said.

“We will also need to see inclusive business models that creatively deal with major social inequality and environmental problems,” he said.

“In short, everything must change.  We are living through what will be history’s greatest paradigm shift. We no longer have a choice,” Lopez said.

Lopez said he was not expecting an easy ride to reach his goals. “I know there’s a lot to do. But each of us needs to think about where our unique strengths are, and apply those strengths collectively to strategic nodes where we can have the greatest impact on shifting the paradigm,” he said.

“For the energy companies under my wing, we are focused on ‘Forging pathways to a decarbonized and regenerative world’,” he said.

In pursuing these pathways, First Gen will tap its geothermal plants as “spearhead” with support from solar and wind. To solve the issue of intermittency of solar and wind, First Gen is developing pump storage hydro plants.

While large scale battery systems remain uneconomical in solving the intermittency of RE plants, First Gen’s natural gas-fired power plants will remain the “best alternative” because of their fast ramp-up capability. 

Lopez noted that natural gas plants “are still fossil fuel based and GHG emitting and thus should be phased down and phased out as soon as the renewables-batteries combinations become economically feasible. 

“One possibility is also that these plants can be powered by much cleaner hydrogen in the future when and if this becomes possible,” he said.

“The thought only makes me feel small and humbled. Because now everything we’ve been doing so far just feels like Step 1 on a long, dangerous thousand-mile journey,” Lopez said. 

“We’re all imperfect beings in an imperfect world but it doesn’t mean we don’t try,” he said. 

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