Coal plants now face hurdles

by Alena Mae S. Flores – June 23, 2016 at 11:55 pm

from Manila Standard Today

New coal power plant projects are facing uncertainties following the appointment of Regina Lopez as the new Environment secretary, an industry executive said Thursday.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte named Lopez as the new head of the Environment Department, which is in charge of issuing environmental compliance certificates to new power projects.

Lopez is a daughter of ABS-CBN chairman Emeritus Eugenio Lopez Jr.  Her family controls renewable energy producer First Philippine Holdings Corp., which declared its stance against coal projects.

Other power companies, however, are building thousands of megawatts of new coal-fired power plants across the country’s three power grids to meet the rising power demand.

“With a true bloodied environmentalist heading the DENR, getting an ECC for coal plants will really go through very stringent requirements,” said Rolando Bacani, president of Global Business Power Corp., one of the largest independent power producers, which owns and operates several coal power plants.

Bacani, however, said he remained optimistic that the construction of coal plants would continue “until such time that reliable sources of non-fossil-fired baseload plants are available and acceptable to the Filipinos [natural gas and nuclear power plant].”

Global Business Power is building a 670-megawatt coal-fired power plant in La Union.

Meralco PowerGen Corp., the power generation arm of Manila Electric Co., is waiting for new policies from the department to determine whether these policies will have an impact on projects in the pipeline.

“We will have to wait for new policies, if any is forthcoming,” Meralco PowerGen general manager Aaron Domingo said, adding existing power projects had already gone through the proper and complete process to secure the ECCs.

Meralco PowerGen, together with partners, is putting up several coal-fired power projects such as the 455-MW San Buenaventura coal-fired power plant in Quezon, 1,200-MW Atimonan coal project also in Quezon and the 600-MW Redondo Peninsula Energy Corp.’s coal plant in Subic.

Other companies that have ongoing coal power projects and new coal projects in the pipeline are San Miguel Corp., Aboitiz Power Corp., AES Philippines, Trans-Asia Oil and Energy Development Corp.

The coal plants are also facing challenges this year as the Climate Change Commission pushed for a review of the country’s energy policy with the view of eventually replacing coal plants with renewable energy projects.

The Energy Department also made a pronouncement that it would come out with stricter standards on coal-fired power plants. Businessman Manuel Pangilinan, however, said the public should be prepared to accept the higher cost of renewable energy and urged the government to come out with a clear energy policy mix.

“We need a policy direction, what is the appropriate fuel mix for our people. And once that’s decided, businesses will build the plants, whether it’s a gas plant, coal plant or renewable plant. So we just need a direction,” Pangilinan said.

Pangilinan said the government should quantify the cost of building renewable energy, which was more expensive.

“Remember, there’s always a price you need to protect the environment,” he said.