More and more local government units (LGUs) are willing to take the sustainable development path offered by renewable energy.
Making a bold step in the effort to go green through renewable energy is the island-province of Guimaras in Western Visayas, which declared during a simple ceremony on February 24, the ban on coal and other fossil-fuel energy. The declaration coincided with the visit of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in the province.
Dubbed as “Balangaw: The Climate Justice Ship Tour of Rainbow Warrior,” Greenpeace, along with the Climate Reality Project, gave recognition to the province, led by Gov. Samuel T. Gumarin and the town of San Lorenzo, for their decision to ban coal and other dirty sources of energy in the province.
Interviewed by the BusinessMirror a day before the event, Naderev Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said the declaration made Guimaras the first coal-free province in Western Visayas.
In the Philippine leg of tour and the iconic ship’s visit to Guimaras, Greenpeace highlighted what it considers the positive side of the climate-change discourse—solution to the climate crisis.
Guimaras is proud to be home to the 54-megawatt (MW) wind farm called San Lorenzo Wind Farm, one of the biggest in Southeast Asia.
“We are elated by the action of the province of Guimaras and their commitment to break away from coal and shift to renewable energy,” said Saño, a former vice chairman of the Climate Change Commission.
During the event, backed by other officials of the province, Gumarin declared a permanent ban on coal and other dirty sources of energy, opting to go for clean renewable energy sources like the wind.
“Essentially, the announcement is something we are very happy about because it is very important,” Saño said. He recalled that Rep. Joey S. Salceda of the Second Distinct of Albay has declared the province coal-free when he was its provincial governor.
Proponents of coal energy, Saño added, are persistent in marketing it as a necessity.
“Many are made to believe by proponents of coal projects that coal is good for the country and the people. We are happy that the province of Guimaras has shown leadership. It takes courage to say no to coal because we know coal peddlers are powerful. Despite that, they [Guimaras people] stood up against it and declared that they will not allow coal in the province,” he said.
Guimaras is energy self-sufficient because the P6.5-billion, 54-MW San Lorenzo Wind Farm that became operational in 2014 has been producing power way beyond the 7-MW requirement of the entire province.
The island-province’s population is 200,000. Known as the mango capital of the Philippines, the provincial government is eyeing to shift from an agricultural province to an agri-eco tourism province, with the solar-wind farm among its tourist destinations on top of the beach resorts around the island.
By 2020, Phinma Energy Corp. is eyeing to operate a P4-billion 40-MW wind farm also within the province, boosting its current power-generation capacity from 54 MW to 94 MW.
Guimaras, however, is not 100-percent coal-free because of its connection to the main power grid.
The excess power generated by the San Lorenzo Wind Farm goes to the Panay Grid, which is connected to the Negros Grid, and to the Cebu, Leyte and Luzon grids.
“Technically speaking, Guimaras is connected to the national grid, but the bulk of the power it produces is consumed by Iloilo. Guimaras has a very small demand for electricity,” Saño noted.
This is the reason the electricity rate in the province is still high. The electricity that it produces goes around and comes back tainted with energy generated from coal and other dirty energy sources.
“Our grid is not smart. The wind power generated by Guimaras does not go back [to it] immediately because it is connected to the main power grid and Iloilo is the main beneficiary,” he explained.
“The biggest impact of Guimaras’s ban on coal is the demonstration that renewable energy is possible. It can even energize an entire province,” Saño said.
Debunking claims that renewable energy is not reliable, he added that the base-load concept is already outdated.
Many are saying—mostly fossil-fuel companies—that renewable energy is not efficient. Even former President Benigno S. Aquino III said in one of his State of the Nation Address that power generation stops at night when there is no sun or when there is not enough wind.
“Of course, that is not true. We now have efficient power-storage technology where we can store the electricity generated by wind turbines or solar farms,” Saño noted.
“Renewable energy will give us real energy security because we will no longer need imported fuel, and the sun and wind are free. Hence, they are more reliable,” he said.
“Renewable energy is interconnected. If it is connected to an efficient and smart grid, the dispatch of electricity that goes contributes to the grid,” Saño added.
According to Saño, it is high time that the government breaks free from the mentality that coal is cheaper, reliable and is necessary for growth and development as other countries had done.
“The economic consideration in renewable energy is viable. Even in terms of cost, solar is cheaper than coal. It is no longer a debate about which is cheaper. We are not yet talking about the environmental destruction. All the fuels that we are using are imported and they have big impact on the economy,” he said.
Blessed with so much renewable energy, Saño said the Philippines should invest in renewable-energy and become a renewable energy leader.
“One way of demonstrating the country’s leadership is that we are blessed with so much renewable energy. We have 70,000-megawatt wind energy capacity. That is roughly 70 times our current demand. And this is wind alone. The potential of producing solar energy is also unlimited. We also have ocean current. All in all we have a 160,000-megawatt capacity, more than enough for the country’s total energy requirement,” he said.
“Moreover, since renewable energy is free, it cannot be monopolized. This is a real power for the people because the renewable-energy facilities will be owned by the people,” he added.
Supply and demand
Saño said there’s a need to learn more about supply and demand. “We need to become more efficient in terms of using our supply and accurate in forecasting our future demand.”
He lamented: “We don’t want to supply if there’s no demand. Accurate forecasting is important. We need to know our long-term demand. That is what we lack. We are wasting energy and we are producing more than what we need.”
The possibility of power overcapacity, he said, is not remote because of the fact that the Philippines has many huge power plants in the pipeline. The problem with huge power plants that run on fossil fuel is that coal is imported and the failure of one power plant makes the Philippines vulnerable to power interruption.
With renewable energy, the power plants are dispersed. Having small power plants is advantageous because a breakdown of one will not easily cause power-supply shortage.
“As said in a saying, never put all your eggs in one basket,” he said.
He advised that the government should regulate the use of electricity, such as in big buildings, where too much electricity is used for air-conditioning units.
Saño lamented that people have to wear jackets because it is very cold with the buildings having centralized air-condition.
LGUs going green
According to Rodne Galicha, Climate Reality Project Philippines country manager, more and more local government units (LGUs) are embracing renewable energy and are turning their backs on coal.
Guimaras, he said, is one example of an LGU that chose to take the path of sustainability. He added that the fight against coal should also be complemented by highlighting communities that are using renewable energy.
“There are a lot of places in the provinces that are opening up to renewable-energy investment,” he said.
Negros Island, Leyte, Aklan, Batangas, Romblon and Sibuyan Island are all going green with renewable energy.
Romblon, Romblon, he added, is now installing windmills.
“We need to highlight solutions while we oppose coal. Solutions are already happening and it is possible, especially in small islands, such as in Sibuyan and Romblon, and here in Guimaras,” he said.
Galicha, however, added that while it is costly, the government should find a way to separate clean energy, or energy produced through renewable energy and that from fossil fuels like coal or diesel.
“What we are looking at is to have energy freedom to choose what energy we want to use. Whether dirty or clean. But that will take time,” he noted.
Having a smart grid that can separate clean from dirty energy is a big challenge. But he said there are solutions so that the people in communities hosting renewable energy plants can benefit from the clean energy they produce.
“The government must invest a lot to ensure energy freedom. People want to break free from coal. Host communities should be the first and foremost beneficiary of the renewable energy produced in their area,” he said.
Like in Guimaras, he added the LGU and the proponent of the wind farm should find a way to reduce the cost of electricity so that the people will benefit in terms of lower electricity rate.
To encourage investment in renewable energy, he said the government should offer more incentives and subsidies. This will allow the government to realize and adapt to the trend that leans heavily in favor of renewable energy.
“For instance, in terms of a loan, interest should be lower if the borrower is using it for renewable energy,” he proposed.
According to Galicha, the concept of industrialization and coal as a cheap source of energy is being debunked by the global trend he calls sustainable development revolution.
“We need to recognize that there are solutions. With the current international trend and business model, coal will become a stranded asset. The policy is in place for renewable energy but, despite the institutionalized direction, the Philippine government is moving away from renewable energy. Many people are now aware of climate change and want to go renewable. We know what happened 200 years ago when we embraced industrialization,” he said.
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