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92-km ‘Climate Walk’ calls for end to coal-fired power plants

/ 12:14 AM July 22, 2015

LALA, Lanao del Norte—Aldren Manisan, a fisherman from the coastal village of Muntay in Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte province, hung his nets on Monday.

Instead of fishing, he joined some 500 marchers in a 92-kilometer journey on foot dubbed “Climate Walk” that began at 6 a.m. here to help catch the government’s attention to an issue that, he said, mattered to him most.

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Manisan said he made the sacrifice to help secure a good future for his children. He recalled that during his younger days, a good fishing day meant some 10 kilos of catch “even with only worms as bait.” This is no longer the case now, he said.

Made aware of the destruction of marine life due to over-exploitation, Manisan has since been actively involved in the restoration of the local mangrove forest as a spawning ground for fish to help increase the sea’s bounty for him and fellow fishers.

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But he said he was troubled that all these would come to naught when coal-fired power plants began humming soon.

One such facility will be put up in Barangay Pulot of Ozamiz City. Another is already under construction between barangays Tacub and Libertad in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, and still another facility is set to rise in Barangay Kiwalan in Iligan City.

The five-day walk to Iligan aims to dramatize the resistance of ordinary folk in Lanao del Norte and Misamis Occidental province against these projects.

‘Whistle stops’

With some 200 core marchers expected to brave the protest trail, the walk was hoped to draw in sympathy marchers from the towns of Lanao del Norte that it would pass through.

At every town were “whistle stops” where they visited the seat of the local government to present a people’s petition against coal-fired power plant projects as well as seek more signatures for it.

In a statement, the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice and Coal Resistance Movement, main organizers of Climate Walk, urged the host local governments “to stop and reject the projects.”

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The groups said ordinary folk who would directly bear the expected negative impact of the plants’ operations were “not substantially consulted,” leading them to suspect that “there must be something fishy (in these projects) that they have to hide these from the public.”

“Excluding the people in deciding about these projects, which could redraw their lives and that of their communities, is tantamount to robbing them of the right to a healthy environment,” said Roldan Gonzales, executive director of nongovernment group Gitib Inc.

The planned power generation facility in Iligan will have a 20-megawatt (MW) capacity. That in Kauswagan, owned by Ayala-affiliated GN Power, is a 540-MW facility, while that in Ozamiz, owned by Ozamiz Power Generation Inc., is 300 MW. When completed, the Kauswagan project will be Mindanao’s largest coal-fired power plant.

These three power plants are the latest in a wave of large-scale, coal-fueled capacities planned to be built in Mindanao. Similar projects are also under way in Davao City and in Sarangani province.

Fishing grounds

All three lie within a distance of 60 km, the shortest being between Kauswagan and Iligan at 20 km. When operational, the Kauswagan and Iligan plants are expected to throw effluents into Iligan Bay, while that in Ozamiz into Panguil Bay.

Panguil Bay is shared by Lanao del Norte and Misamis Occidental. Both also share Iligan Bay with some parts of Misamis Oriental province.

The bays are the sources of fish for some 200,000 people in Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental and some parts of Zamboanga del Sur province.

“These plants are potential carbon emitters and they are to be built in one-bay region. These could have a significant impact on the quality of air, seawater and agricultural land in the region,” said Regina Antequisa of the group Ecosystems Work for Essential Benefits.

Citing various studies, Gonzales pointed to the many risks involved in the operation of coal-fired power plants, among others, mercury contamination of the sea from fly ash that could render fish caught in the bays unfit for human consumption.

He said that based on scientific studies, a 100-MW coal-fired plant could generate an accumulated 11.33 kilograms (25 pounds) of mercury in a year’s operation, enough to contaminate a 125,000-hectare body of water. That is three-and-a-half times the size of the 34,000-ha Lake Lanao.

“Just imagine, three times that amount of pollutants dumped into Panguil Bay from the 300-MW power plant. That would be a disaster to the more than 9,000 fishers whose livelihood depended on its bounty,” Gonzales said.

Spanning some 18,000 ha, Panguil Bay stretches a coastline of 116 km, covering 12 towns in Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Misamis Occidental.

Iligan Bay is a much larger water body with an estimated coastline of 170 km and a surface area of about 239,000 ha that opens toward Bohol Sea. It is recognized by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources as a major fishing ground for its rich fishery resources such as fish, algae and mollusks, and serves as an important food producer and living space for wildlife.

Power crisis

The drive to stave off a debilitating power crisis in Mindanao, if new capacities are not brought on-stream soonest, has resulted in the flooding of coal-fired thermal plant projects in the region.

While the dirtiest source of energy, coal is also the cheapest, hence its wide use especially in developing economies.

As of the first quarter of 2015, the Department of Energy (DOE) has accounted for some 1,870 MW of power generation capacities already committed to be built in Mindanao. Of this, some 1,745 MW are coal-fired power plants.

According to the DOE in 2013, Mindanao needs about 1,600 MW of new power generation capacities up to 2030 to cope with its rising demand for electricity.

In 2013, coal-fed capacities account for only 10 percent of the total power generation capacity in Mindanao, with hydro taking the lion’s share of 52 percent. When the indicative and committed projects are factored in, the proportion shifts radically with coal accounting for 36 percent while hydro is down to only 35 percent.

This picture has local environmental advocates lamenting.

“There are other potential energy sources in the region, especially renewable ones. These must be exhausted before looking into nonrenewables. We must rethink our energy policy so we can wean our economies away from dirty energy,” Antequisa pointed out.

Meanwhile, Manisan pushes on with the walk of his life, hoping that the voices of small fishermen will be heard.

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TAGS: Climate Walk, coal-fired power plants, environment, news, Regions
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