Coal expected to still dominate power mix

Monday, September 5, 2016

from The  Visayan Daily Star

Coal seen to still dominate power mix

Coal is still expected to dominate the power mix in the Philippines in the next one or two decades despite increases in investments in renewable energy.

This is because the overall renewable energy growth has been outpaced by the increase in coal power plant capacity, Richard Tantoco, president and chief operating officer of the Energy Development Corporation, said in a paper read for him at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, recently.

Since the enactment of the Renewable Energy Act of 2008, new renewable capacities, like wind, solar, biomass, hydro, have significantly increased from 34 megawatts in 2008 to 813MW as of last year.

But he said the power generating share for renewable energy fell from 34 percent in 2008 to only 25 percent in 2015, while non-renewable sources grew from 66 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2015.

Tantoco said that if nothing is done to reverse this trend, coal will still dominate the power capacity mix in the country by 70 percent in 2030.

And if all the planned coal plants in the Philippines become operational, there will be no more room for new technologies to come in.

In 2015, there were 17 old coal plants in the country, 25 new coal plants, and 71 new contracts for the construction of the same, approved under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared there was nothing wrong with the government’s plan to put up new coal-fired power plants to increase the power supply in the country, dismissing the call of developed countries to reduce carbon emission worldwide as “hypocritical,” as the rich countries, he said, were the biggest carbon polluters.

But operating the planned additional coal-powered plants in the Philippines would mean a steep increase in carbon emissions by 141 percent from 2016 to 2030, Tantoco said.

Cost-wise, opting for coal will only be artificially lower, at 35 centavos per kilowatt hour – artificially, he said, because coal plants have “hidden costs” in terms of damage to the environment and people’s health.

When this hidden cost is accounted for, the actual cost of coal is 9.4 to 26.9 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour.

Solar and wind energy costs only 1.3 to 1.9 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour, in terms of “integration cost of intermittent renewable energy.”

Apart from not being actually cheaper, coal-fired power plants expose people to toxic particles and heavy metals, according to health experts. These are emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dust and soot, and heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium and cadmium.

These microscopic particles, also so-called Particulate Matter (PM 10 or less), with an aerobic diameter of 10 millionth of a meter or less are emitted into the air, inhaled by people, and penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream, causing deaths and serious diseases.

They said the most serious health effects are stroke, heart attacks, asthma, lung cancer, diseases of the central nervous system, lower birth weight, impaired fetal growth, lower IQ development, and premature birth.

Many countries are moving away from carbon. United Kingdom will quit carbon by 2025. U.S.A. has retired carbon plants by more than 100MW. Europe is done with coal, and China will shut down the last coal power plant in Beijing this year, Tantoco said.*Celia Acedo