Power plants to have ‘stricter’ standards

by Lenie Lectura – March 3, 2016

from Business Mirror

Industry stakeholders are forming a technical working group (TWG) to address environmental and health concerns on power plants that run on fossil fuels, particularly coal.

Energy Secretary Zenaida Monsada said on Thursday that the meeting with other government agencies and coal power-plant operators pushed through last week.

“We will create a technical working group. We will be joined by the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources], Climate Change Commission and the technical people of various power-plant owners,” Monsada said at the sidelines of the Shell Powering Progress Together-Asia forum in Manila.

The TWG’s main focus, according to the Department of Enegy (DOE) chief, is to craft stricter standards based on existing rules. “We are starting it with a series of dialogues with them. Afterward, we will inform the power-plant operators. We will be very critical on emission and energy efficiency,” Monsada said.

The DOE took the initiative to assemble the country’s coal power-plant operators, after the government committed to cut emissions by 70 percent by 2030 during the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December last year.

“We are being asked for an update since the conference was held. We called for a meeting. The coal-power plants are cooperative. We will come out with a template, then we will again discuss this with them,” Monsada added.

Among others, the template will determine the necessary emission level for coal-power plants. “There should be improvement in the operations of old coal plants, but there will be no shutdown because we need power. The technology of the new coal plants are already super critical, thus, it’s less of a concern,” Monsada said.

There are around 20 coal-fired power plants operating in the country today, according to DOE 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 power mix, she said.

The ideal mix should be 30-percent gas, 30-percent coal, 30-percent renewable energy. Other fuel sources, such as diesel and oil, make up the remaining 10 percent.

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

Global think tank IHC said that coal is sent to take up 56 percent of the mix by 2020 and only 35 percent for gas. There are 23 new coal-fired power plants lined up for commercial operation in the next five years.

“If coal projects are implemented as planned, Luzon’s coal-generation share will be over 75 percent by 2030, and many coal plants will be uneconomic,” it said. “Without intervention, the Philippines is on the path to having the highest coal share in Asia, despite intent to have one-third rule.”

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, which have already substantially reduced the emission of pollutants to levels close to those of natural gas.

Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan is eagerly waiting for a policy on energy mix.

“We would encourage the government to adopt a policy of energy sourcing. We need to know that energy mix, so the private sector would know where to move next. Should we turn to coal-plants? To gas plants?” Pangilinan said when asked for comment on the meeting between the DOE and coal-plant operators that took place last week.

Meralco is the country’s largest distribution utility firm. It’s power-generation arm, Meralco PowerGen Corp., is developing three coal-power plants. These are the 455-megawatt (MW) coal plant in Mauban, Quezon, 600 MW in Atimonan, Quezon, and 600-MW coal plant in Subic.

AC Energy Holdings Inc., the power arm of conglomerate Ayala Corp., said its coal-power plants are compliant with all the standards set by the government.

“As far as we are concerned, we make sure that we exceed all of these standards. You need to look at a case-to-case basis, whether it’s adhering to standards, impact on community, etc…” AC Energy President John Eric Francia said when sought for comment.

The company is committed to build a portfolio of power-generation assets using renewable and conventional technologies. It has currently assembled over 700 MW of attributable capacity.

Alsons Consolidated Resources Inc. (ACR) of the Alacantara group, for its part, said it welcomes the DOE’s move to hold dialogues with coal-plant owners.

“Our coal plants are equipped with the state-of-the-art environmental-protection systems that ensure our strict adherence to the Clean Air Act emission levels.

What the Clean Air Act does not address are carbon-dioxide emissions for which there are no economically viable and technical proven mitigation measures. Our power plants are supported by forest-based carbon sequestration projects that will help absorb our carbon-dioxide emissions,” Alsons Vice President for Business Development Joseph Nocos said in a text message. ACR is developing two coal-fired power facilities to help provide a stable source of base-load power for Mindanao and ensure long-term power security for the island.

These are the 105-MW San Ramon Power Inc. plant in Zamboanga City and the 210-MW Sarangani Energy Corp. plant in Maasim, Sarangani.

Former Energy Undersecretary and Chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Coal Mines Inc. Rufino Bomasang said carbon capture and sequestration technologies are also being developed, and their 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 [e.g., China and India] and in neighboring Asean member-countries [e.g., Indonesia and Thailand]. Even developed countries in the region [e.g., Japan and South Korea], in fact, continue to put up coal-fired power plants,” he added.

Bomasang said 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, he added.

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