DAVAO CITY – The government said Tuesday it was determined to build more coal-fired power plants despite the warnings from Mindanao’s residents and businesses that those would drive electricity rates up and hurt the environment.
Ahead of a power summit here, Energy Undersecretary Josephine Patricia Asirit told businessmen, local executives and officials from the power cooperatives gathered at the Grand Regal Hotel that preparations were under way to build more coal-fired plants to generate 700 megawatts of base-load power and to revive the 100-megawatt Iligan diesel power plant.
Asirit said the Energy Department had asked for a deferment of the privatization of the Agus-Pulangi in deference to Congress, which will decide on the privatization.
Senator Francis Joseph Escudero, a member of the joint congressional power commission, said the commission will meet on April 19 to discuss the power crisis in Mindanao and resolve the privatization issue.
Senator Sergio Osmeña III, the commission’s chairman, said a joint resolution by the House and Senate will be needed to approve the privatization.
“We are in consultation with Congress,” Osmeña said.
The power barges deployed to Mindanao would produce an extra 120 megawatts since the Agus-Pulangui plants, which produce 180 megawatts, would be shut down for repairs starting April 17, Asirit said.
She said using the Iligan diesel plant and power barges would mean the power rates in Mindanao would go up by 50 to 80 centavos per kilowatt hour.
“Energy Secretary [Jose Rene] Almendras is biting the bullet here… Unpopular decisions have to be made to solve the power situation in Mindanao,” Asirit said.
“It is inevitable. We have to address the shortage in power.”
But Agham Rep. Angelo Palmones said the government should suspend the collection of the value added tax on oil that will be used to run the power barges to cushion the impact of the power rate increase.
Von Hernandez, Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director, slammed the government’s insistence on using coal, which he describes as a dirty source of power.
“The government has obviously used the power crisis and created an emergency situation to ram down the throat of people of Mindanao the dirty and harmful coal-fired power plants,” Hernandez said. He said Greenpeace will be attending the Energy Summit hosted by President Benigno Aquino III.
“We will remind President Aquino that he promised during the campaign for the presidential election to phase out the coal-fired power plants,’’ Hernandez said.
“This is a complete turnaround from his promise. We will also lobby Congress to block the government’s plan to pursue the use of coal because it would lock the country to harmful fossil fuel in the next 30 years.’’
Vicente Lao, Mindanao Business Council president, who attended the pre-summit conference, said investors might be driven away by the rolling blackouts and high power costs on the island.
At the pre-summit conference, Asirit said the government could not make the Agus-Pulangui hydroelectric plants supply base-load power because they were seasonal and could not provide power consistently throughout the year.
“We need power 24/7 and we cannot rely on our hydro power plants as baseload,’’ Asirit said.
“In fact, the repairs have to be made not later than April 17 because of the low level of water. So we need to contend with the more expensive fuel-based power generation. If there is no water, there is no energy.”
Also on Tuesday, a National Power Corp. official denied a claim by the Lopez group that the state-owned company was responsible for the high price of electricity in Mindanao.
“Napocor’s rate is one of the lowest. They [the Lopez group] cannot say that we are charging more. Our mix is predominantly hydro. That’s why its cheaper,’’ said Dennis Gana, corporate communications manager.
Two lawmakers, meanwhile, demanded that the House committee on energy headed by Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad hold marathon hearings during the congressional break to attend to the pending measures to address the power crisis in Mindanao.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said the hearings could get the ball rolling on the renewable energy projects as a long-term and sustainable solution to Mindanao’s power problems.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said Abad’s panel “should make a little sacrifice” by conducting back-to-back hearings on oil and power.
More than 40 bills and resolutions aimed at addressing the power crisis and the runaway prices of fuel and electricity were gathering dust in Abad’s committee, Magsaysay said. With John Concepcio, Maricel Cruz
(Published in the Manila Standard Today newspaper on /2012/April/4)