Suspicions raised on motives for push for Subic coal plantPhilippine Daily Inquirer
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—Community leaders in Zambales and Olongapo City and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) are questioning why Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras is pushing for the coal-fired power plant project here, owned by an energy consortium that includes a firm with historical ties to him.
Almendras is pushing for the coal power plant project here as a solution to a projected power crisis in 2015.
Zambales Vice Gov. Ramon Lacbain II said Almendras’ strong endorsement of the proposed 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant project of Redondo Peninsula Energy Inc. (RP Energy), a consortium of energy companies Aboitiz Power Corp., Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and Taiwan Cogen Corp., was “misplaced.”
Almendras was former treasurer of Aboitiz Ventures Inc., the holding company of the Aboitiz Group of Companies.
In a text message, Almendras initially said Lacbain’s statements were “not worth my reply.”
In a later text message, however, the energy secretary said Lacbain’s information was not accurate.
Almendras said Lacbain “does not know that it is now Meralco who is the lead in the project.”
“If he (Lacbain) will be quoted as questioning my integrity, I will see if I can file the appropriate libel charge,” Almendras said.
Lacbain said Almendras “shouldn’t sacrifice the tourism industry of Subic [just to meet the country’s energy needs] when there are clearly other coal plant projects that would address the issue.”
“For instance, the coal-fired plant in Masinloc is seeking to expand to [a] 600 MW [plant] and that’s enough,” said the vice governor.
“Why then does he still want that coal plant to be built in the free port?” the vice governor said.
SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia had asked President Aquino to relocate the coal plant amid strong opposition in Subic to the project over environmental concerns.
Garcia supported his request with documented opposition from stakeholders in the community who fear the adverse impact of a coal-fired plant on the ecotourism industry of the free port.
He also cited the allegedly irregular contract awarded to RP Energy by the former SBMA board, which requires the company to pay the government only P1 million every year.
Almendras, in an earlier statement, said: “At the rate that consumption is growing and if we expect the economy to grow at the pace we’re growing, we will need at least another 600-MW power plant in 2015, another one in 2016 and another in 2017.”
“We want to make sure that nothing goes wrong,” Almendras’ statement said.
Groups opposed to the project had taken their campaign to the social networking site Facebook through the page “No to coal plant in Subic Bay” which has attracted more than 5,000 members.
Jen Velarmino, spokesperson for the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber for Health and Environment Conservation, disputed Almendras’ statement by citing a statement supposedly made by the President in March.
“We appeal to President Aquino to listen to the majority of the stakeholders and not act on the business agenda of RP Energy and its cohorts,” said Velarmino.
“We do not want any coal plant project in our beautiful Subic Bay. We have enough power that we need, and according to the President himself we have a surplus of 1,500 MW in Luzon,” she said.
Charo Simons, vice president of the Subic-Olongapo Cancer Society, said: “An overwhelming majority of the people who live and belong in Subic Bay, including its surrounding environs and communities, do not want the coal plant here.”
“With our government unable to give sufficient health care to the poor, why do we now have to add a deadly pollutant?” said Simon. Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon