Energy regulator to discuss rules with coal power-plant operators

by Lenie Lectura – February 22, 2016

from Business Mirror

THE Department of Energy (DOE) is meeting coal power-plant owners this week to discuss the agency’s plan in imposing stricter rules on their operation.

“We are meeting with coal-plant operators because we will be [stricter] with standards, emissions and fuel quality, even storage handling and distribution,” Energy Secretary Zenaida Y. Monsada said. “We want to impose more strict standards, even involving how to minimize the dust.”

There are around 20 coal-fired power plants operating in the country today, according to Energy Director for Electric Power Industry Management Bureau Irma Exconde. Coal, as a source of power, makes up about 40 percent to 45 percent of the country’s fuel mix, she added.

“This is under the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources]. It’s their jurisdiction,” Exconde said. “Remember that the power plants seek environmental clearance from the DENR before they can operate the plant, but since it’s energy related then we have to initiate.”

Exconde added the DOE would like to focus into “improving and reviewing the existing operations” of how coal power-plant operators handle, among others, “heat traps emissions and ash trapping.”

Coal-fired power generation continues to face the challenge of social acceptability due mainly to concerns about its environmental impacts.

But coal-plant owners stressed that the new plants being put up are already equipped with clean-coal technologies (CCTs) they claim to have “already substantially reduced the emission of pollutants to levels approaching those of natural gas.”

Former Energy Undersecretary Rufino Bomasang said “carbon capture and sequestration technologies are also being developed and its deployment should substantially reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power generation.”

Most of the major power plants being built in the Philippines are coal-fired, as it is in the world’s two largest developing countries, like China and India, and in neighboring Asean member-countries e.g., Indonesia and Thailand, according to Bomasang, who is also chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Coal Mines Inc. “Even developed countries in the region [e.g., Japan and South Korea] continue to put up coal-fired power plants.”

He added that industry players and the government must address the concerns raised by environmentalists to pave the way for the opening of more mine-mouth power plants using untapped coals. These potential plants are in Cagayan, Isabela, Surigao, Davao Oriental and South Cotabato, according to Bomasang.

“In these areas, I estimate that the combined measured and indicated coal resources are sufficient to supply at least another 2,000 megawatts of mine-mouth power-generating capacity.”

Based on previous DOE data, there are at least 45 new coal-fired power plants that would be put up between 2015 and 2022.

Environmental group Greenpeace said this would increase the Philippines’s carbon-dioxide emissions by over 64.4 million metric tons (MMT) a year to 79.8 MMT a year.

It said the Aquino administration’s reliance on coal-fired power plants puts the country’s climate at risk, which, in turn, could cost the economy.

But Monsada said the new coal-fired power plant that were recently put up and are being constructed have “actually helped ease the power crisis in Mindanao.”

“We still need coal. If not for the coal plants, Mindanao would have suffered more of rotating brownouts,” the energy chief said. “While we still have coal plants, the emissions of which should be reduced.”

The agency wants to achieve a balance fuel mix—30 percent coal, 30 percent renewable energy and 30 percent gas—for the country. The remaining 10 percent shall account for other types of fuel such as diesel.

“For now, meaning up to June this year, there won’t be any issuance on energy policy mix up, but we hope this balanced energy mix would be in a form of legislation,” Monsada said.