June 05, 2021 at 07:30 pm
Alena Mae S. Flores
The power outages that hit Luzon in the past few days prompted another call from nuclear power proponents to revive the 620-megawatt Bataan nuclear power plant to augment the supply in Luzon amid the rising demand despite the continuing economic crisis.
Former Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco warned that an economic upturn, once the COVID-19 pandemic is contained, could result in a more serious power shortage. Many business establishments remain closed because of the quarantine restrictions.
“Because of COVID, our power consumption is low. Imagine if COVID is over and there is an economic recovery, that upturn would be prevented by power supply deficiency,” he said.
Cojuangco is hoping the government will make a firm stand on nuclear power as the revival of the mothballed Bataan facility could help avert the power shortage.
“We are hoping this will get the attention of President Duterte as a long-term solution in our energy situation,” says Cojuangco, who is now with Alpas Pinas—an advocacy group for nuclear energy in the Philippines.
Cojuangco says there is still “a window of opportunity” to revive BNPP and provide consumers with lower-cost and stable source of electricity.
“BNPP is very well preserved. If we had started its commissioning in the first year of the Duterte administration, it would have been operational today and we would not have a problem in load generating capacity, because it would add 600 MW of reliable power,” he says.
He says nuclear power has a 92-percent capacity factor compared to coal and natural gas with only 68 percent to 85 percent.
Cojuangco says the average life of nuclear power plants is about 80 years from date of commissioning, and BNPP has not even run a single day.
He says the president should take the lead and provide a clear message on the way forward for nuclear power. “If there is a clear message from the president, it will be considered important and will be discussed by the House and the Senate,” he says, adding that a law should be put in place to ensure the continuity of the project.
“An executive order won’t have continuity because it could be stopped by the next president. If it is made into law and there is a clear message, it could not just be set aside,” he says.
Cojuangco says if the government decides to privatize BNPP, it should team up with the Korean experts to revive it first, then fetch a good price.
For Conjuangco, it would be better not to sell BNPP and instead use it to bring down the cost of electricity for the benefit of the public.
He cites for example the average cost of nuclear power fleet in the US at 2.30 cents per kilowatt-hour, or equivalent to about P1.20 per kWh, compared to the wholesale cost of electricity today at P4.80 to P5 per kWh.
“If the wholesale cost of electricity is that low, other add-ons will be law, including VAT, system loss, transmission charges and distribution costs which represent a percentage of the original rate,” he says.
Cojuango says pushes for the development of nuclear power facilities in the country to halve the cost of power for Filipinos. He says his group has been going around the country to educate coastal communities in the provinces about the benefits of hosting a nuclear power plant.
“What I am telling people from the province is to invite the national government to locate a nuclear plant in their area in exchange for free electricity for the entire 80-year life of the nuclear plant,” he says.
Cojuangco says host communities will benefit from the low power rates, attract investors and trigger economic growth. Nuclear also avoids high import costs, as coal and gas fuel costs are imported at about $600 million annually. The import cost related to operating nuclear facilities would be only about $20 million annually, he says.
He cites estimates from the National Economic and Development Authority that the country needs 13,000 megawatts of electricity to serve the rising demand. “If you multiply that with $600 million a year in importation cost, they are talking of $7.8 billion a year,” he says.
Cojuangco says small modular reactors with a capacity of 300 MW and below could address the needs the grid.
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi is also hoping President Duterte would endorse the results of a study of the inter-government agency on the adoption of the national position on the nuclear energy program that would pave the way for nuclear in the power mix.
Duterte signed Executive Order No. 116 on July 24 providing for the creation of the Nuclear Energy Program Inter-Agency Committee, chaired by DOE, to conduct the study. The committee is tasked to submit its recommendation on a national position on nuclear energy to the Office of the President.
Once the DOE recommendation is approved by Malacanang, the Philippines will have an official policy of including nuclear energy in the energy mix.
Cusi earlier urged the public to be open to nuclear energy to help the country attain energy security and sustainability goals. “I continue my call on my countrymen to open themselves to the idea. Considering the potential of safely utilizing nuclear energy for the country’s power needs doesn’t mean that nuclear power plants will immediately come out of the woodwork,” Cusi says.
“I believe that the time is ripe for us to embark on a full national nuclear energy program,” he says.
Cusi says the COVID-19 onslaught found that energy systems could be interrupted especially for countries like the Philippines.
“This has further underscored the urgency of attaining our energy security and sustainability goals,” he says.
“Technology neutrality caters for all possible energy solutions, without prejudice to, or predisposition against, any particular resource,” Cusi said.
“I firmly believe that our country’s economic landscape would be much different had we tapped nuclear power back then. Instead, our economic development was stunted, whereas our regional neighbors who had boldly ventured towards nuclear, had all been transformed into economic powerhouses,” says Cusi.
Cusi says with the evolution of small modular reactors that are suitable for off-grid or island areas, the possibility of establishing a modular power plant in the country might come as soon as 2027.
“We are strongly pushing for the passage of the necessary legal and regulatory frameworks to pave the way for nuclear power, which are among the bills that have been certified as urgent in Congress,” he says.