Energy chief sidesteps coal-fired plant issues
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla steered clear of heated issues over a proposed coal plant in Palawan to meet the province’s increasing demand for electricity.
The decision “will have to be made by the locals,” Petilla said in a press conference before presiding over a province-wide energy summit here on Friday. He said his department “is neutral when it comes to source of power.”
“In the end, the acceptability of any type of power plant is between the local government and the people affected,” he said, referring to the proposed 15-megawatt coal-fired power plant.
Petilla, however, stated that in the country’s main electricity grids, including Luzon, coal-fired power plants would remain as the dependable power source “because the other options are very expensive.”
The project of DMCI Powers Inc. in Aborlan town, about 60 kilometers south of the capital of Puerto Princesa City, has pitted the provincial government against civil society groups, which are campaigning against coal because of its harmful effects on the environment and public health.
A regional trial court has issued a temporary environmental protection order following a petition filed by residents.
Earlier this week, Gov. Jose Chaves Alvarez blasted the anticoal opposition and announced a unilateral decision revoking an agreement with Western Philippines University (WPU) to support over 3,000 scholars under the provincial government’s education support program.
WPU, whose main campus is beside the prospective site of the coal plant, has issued an official position against the project.
Alvarez said the provincial government would discontinue the scholarship support to WPU starting next year, and advised current beneficiaries to transfer to another state university based in Puerto Princesa if they want to continue receiving financial help.
Speaking at the energy summit, Petilla urged Palawan officials to carefully study how to address the province’s increasing demand for electricity, specifically how it would source its base load power—the main source of electricity—which is currently supplied by independent power producers using either bunker fuel or diesel.
“I support renewable energy but here in Palawan, the province’s only alternative for its main power supply is either diesel or coal,” he said.
He explained that the development of renewable energy sources, including mini-hydro and solar-based power generations, “must go hand in hand with coal, which is your only option for base load.”
Because of the undependable nature of renewable energy in consistently producing electricity, these cannot be relied upon to provide base load power to the main grids, Petilla said.
“If you have a growing economy, diesel is extremely expensive. But if you are looking at what we’re seeing in terms of demand, we need coal. Not because I love coal but because we have no other alternative,” he said.
Petilla, however, added that in the next three years, the country’s main grids would be able to accommodate power supplied by liquid natural gas (LNG) fed power plants.
“In three years time, we have LNG as an option. This also applies to Palawan,” he said. He added that the energy department was working on measures to draw LNG power into the main grids, including addressing the infrastructure needs of LNG transport.
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