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We’ll be needing all the energy we can generate

WE have a long-range plan to expand the nation’s power supply with renewable resources, such as hydro, geothermal, solar, and wind. The power that now drives our industries and lights our homes mostly comes from coal plants for the simple reason that they are the least costly source. Along with oil and natural gas plants, they provide some 68 percent of the nation’s power needs today, with 32 percent from hydro power dams and new solar, wind, and biomass farms.

It is with this background – the big picture of the country’s energy supply – that a controversy has developed over seven coal-fired power plants in several provinces for which the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) has filed applications for Power Supply Agreements (PSA). These plants would produce a total of 3,551 megawatts of new power.

A number of civil society organizations have demonstrated against approval of the PSAs by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on the ground that coal plants are costly and dirty. Against them are other groups – the business sector, local governments, and community organizations – who similarly marched to the ERC to support the projects, as they look forward to the jobs, livelihood, and other economic benefits the new power plants are expected to create.

The proposed power plant in Atimonan, Quezon, is especially distinctive as it will use the Ultra Super Critical Technology now used in the United States, China, Japan, Germany, and other countries, which produces much lower harmful emissions than the usual system.

At a recent congressional hearing, the ERC set a three-month deadline in which to make a decision. However, last June 30, President Duterte signed Executive Order 30 directing the national government to harmonize, integrate, and streamline regulatory processes and requirements in energy projects. Agencies are to act on applications related to energy projects within 30 days.

The ERC will have sufficient time to study the points raised by the opposing groups. It may take into consideration the country’s commitment to steadily reduce its dependence on energy from fossil fuels such as coil, oil, and natural gas, towards energy from renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and biomass.

But the administration is about to embark on a massive infrastructure building program – “Build, Build, Build” – which will require great amounts of energy to carry out in the next five years. The seven plants now awaiting ERC approval are expected to produce a total of 3,551 more megawatts of power when they get online by 2019.

We must keep our long-range goal of boosting our renewable energy program, under our national commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. But in the immediate term – to avoid the power shortages of the 1990s and to provide for President Duterte’s all-out infrastructure program, we may need all the energy we can generate – including those now pending before the ERC.