Fish cages seen threat to Sual coal power plant

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BANGUS cages dotting a bay in Pangasinan near the Sual coal-fired power plant, a major supplier of electricity in Luzon and Metro Manila. GABRIEL CARDINOZA/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

SUAL, Pangasinan—Hundreds of fish cages that have sprouted near a coal-fired power plant on Cabalitian Bay here may disrupt the facility and trigger a Luzon-wide blackout.

Ruben Licerio, vice president for operations and station manager of the Sual power station (SPS), has asked the local government to move the fish cages to a safer distance.

Fish operators began raising bangus (milkfish) cages on the bay in May, many of them 100 meters from the south portion of the plant’s perimeter fence, he said.

“The proximity of these new fish cages poses a serious threat to the safe and reliable operation of the power plant,” said Licerio in an Aug. 12 letter to Sual Mayor Roberto Arcinue.

Nestor Domenden, Ilocos director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said the number of cages in the bay has increased from 400 to 778 cages since May.

These are 18-meter diameter circular frames made of polyvinyl chloride pipes. Each cage raises 50,000 bangus fingerlings.

“Our personnel have observed that fish feed residues are now appearing in the plant’s water intake area [and this] can disrupt plant operations,” Licerio said.

In December 1999, the plant shut down when thousands of jellyfish obstructed its cooling system, plunging Luzon into several hours of darkness.

The coal-fired plant, which is owned by Team Energy, a consortium of the Tokyo Electric Corp. and Marubeni Corp., produces 1,200 megawatts of electricity, which represents 22 percent of the total electricity that is distributed each day by the Luzon grid.

When Typhoons “Cosme” and “Emong” struck Pangasinan province in 2008 and 2009, respectively, fish that escaped from the damaged cages on Cabalitian Bay were sucked in by the cooling system, forcing the plant to shut down, Licerio said.

He also said the cages obstruct the routes of maritime vessels that deliver coal and fuel to the power plant and hamper its safety response protocol in case of emergency.

“The close proximity of the cages and their operators poses a security threat to the power plant, which is a vital installation,” Licerio said.

Arcinue said he had sent a team to check on Licerio’s complaint. “Some of the fish cage owners are hard-headed. They go near the plant. But we are doing something to keep them at a safe distance,” he said.

Based on a directive of the municipal agricultural officer here, the cages should maintain a distance of 400 meters from the plant’s perimeter.

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