Why I'm saying no to new coal-fired power plants

Updated: Aug 11, 2019

If you care about participating in petitions banning single-use plastic or New Year's Eve balloon drops, then maybe you'd care about this: https://www.bataris.org.ph/petitions/oppose-palawan-coal-fired-power-plant/. Read the rest of this post to see why this matters, and why you might too. :)

For a long time, the conversations we've had through the MUNI Community have mostly revolved around zero waste / single-use plastic and one's own personal lifestyle, but I've also known that it's not enough. And while I am still uncertain of how to broach these topics with the community, I also feel the need to begin really challenging others to take a stronger stand for sustainable development, beyond saying no to plastic straws, buying social enterprise products or making your own toothpaste. Instead, individuals can actually effect a more systemic change by questioning the current ways by which government and business work, and making a stand to challenge the status quo.


On June 17, 2019, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Environmental Management Bureau issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate to DMCI Power to build a coal-fired power plant in Palawan. (see https://palawan-news.com/denr-gives-go-ahead-to-palawan-coal-plant/)


Palawan is a major island in the Philippines that has prided itself in being the "World's Best Island", home of the UNESCO heritage sites: Tubbataha Reefs and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean National Park, not to mention its other local human and wildlife inhabitants that have benefited from the clean air, water and land from it being coal-free.


Back in 2014, former president Aquino said that Palawan needs adequate energy to cater to the 10 million tourists projected for 2016. “A lot of these tourists will be going to Palawan. I am sure you are aware of all the developments that are happening here. And all of that plus the upstream and downstream industries will need power." He goes on to say that if it’s not available, then the country would lose the big projected tourism industry growth. (see https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/606179/aquino-not-keen-on-coal-free-palawan)


But growth at what expense? Would locals not prefer a future of clean air, clean water, clean land and thriving wildlife over throngs of tourists promising "growth and development"? And what then would tourists actually keep coming for if the island's health is compromised with an unsustainable coal plant and other unsustainable infrastructure built with a short-sighted goal in mind?


Update: Apparently some locals do prefer to have the power plant if it means a more stable, reliable source of energy, because power outages are quite disruptive on the island. And perhaps I speak of this as a distant spectator, removed from the actual situation, but I also come from a place of concern about the island's future (for both the environment and its local residents) should it go this direction.


If you want to learn more about the Philippines, coal and its potential clean energy future, check out the three-part series on Manila Standard by environmental lawyer, educator and climate negotiator Tony La Viña linked below. And here are some excerpts:

  1. "While it makes sense for the government to provide an immediate solution to the problem of availability and affordability of energy supply in Mindanao and the country, it has to also go the extra mile and create solutions that will benefit the country in the long term. The decision-making process for providing energy must not be done in a vacuum and all aspects must be carefully considered and weighed so as to truly have a vision for energy security that complements the country’s aspirations of sustainable development. We cannot afford to have a one-track assessment of our options for achieving energy security.  It will be dangerous; it will send a wrong signal to investors. It is only proper that the government conveys to us what its plans are for the long term and how and when it intends to transition to an energy track that will lead us to sustainable development." http://manilastandard.net/opinion/columns/eagle-eyes-by-tony-la-vina/196916/coal-and-the-philippines-future.html

  2. "There is good reason to believe that we  are entering a new era of energy  development.  Reports  of coal companies going bankrupt have hit the news.  The  surge of this shift is auspicious, as it  gained  momentum just after  the adoption of the Paris agreement on  Dec. 12, 2015. The legally-binding climate deal mandates developed and developing countries to achieve a long-term global temperature goal of as low as 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Major emitters such as  US and China are onboard to  lower their carbon footprint.  The Philippines, in its intended nationally determined contribution or INDC, also set a conditional 70-percent emission reduction goal by 2030. Phasing out coal is considered one of the steps that have to be taken in order to have a cleaner and greener world.  Coal-fired power plants have  various environmental stressors  and as such contribute to pollution  and climate change." http://manilastandard.net/opinion/columns/eagle-eyes-by-tony-la-vina/197716/beyond-coal-our-energy-future.html

  3. "Coal has often been described as least-cost technology, but this is misleading. When we factor in the health and social impacts of coal on communities—as we should—operating coal-fired power plants bear costs that are unfortunately paid for by people who will be affected the most by the ill effects of CFPPs. These costs are not often accounted  for in the electricity price because they are considered externalities. These externalities come in the form of health hazards which result from the life-cycle of coal—from mining to disposal of post-combustion waste. Among these stages, combustion generates the most significant amount of hazardous byproducts such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen, oxides of sulfur and a slew of other substances that are carcinogenic. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has reported that out of 187 hazardous air pollutants, 84 are emitted by CFPPs." http://manilastandard.net/opinion/columns/eagle-eyes-by-tony-la-vina/198626/coal-is-not-least-costly-technology.html


Civil society movements and some LGUs have shown that we can resist the building of new coal-fired power plants from happening. They realize that there's so much at stake, and so much we need to protect.


Chuck Baclagon of 350.org Southeast Asia, said: “Masbate, Guimaras, Sorsogon, Ilocos Norte, Bohol and Negros Oriental have already declared themselves as coal-free zones. The growing number of provinces and other local governments issuing such resolutions reflect the increasing realization across the world that coal is bad for the people and the climate.” (see https://businessmirror.com.ph/2018/08/05/lgus-going-green-rejecting-coal-projects/)


Youth groups in Negros have also spoken up about the issue with their protests in Negros against the 300-megawatt plant proposed in 2018 by SMC Global Power Holdings Corporation. “We are in a state of crisis due to climate change, and if our leaders do not think we should make rapid and drastic changes to combat the crisis, then they need to revisit the definition of true leadership and public service. They make the big decisions; we can only hope that they make the right ones,” said Krishna Ariola, lead convenor of Youth 4 Climate Hope, one of the organizations behind the protest. (see https://www.eco-business.com/news/youth-group-says-no-to-coal-fired-power-plants-in-philippines-island-province/).


Up north, the town of San Gabriel, one of the largest ones in La Union (based on land area), has also opposed the 670-megawatt twin plants project of Global Luzon Energy Development Corp. (GLECD). More and more people are taking strong stands against the short-sighted thinking behind the building of new coal-fired power plants. (see https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1145118/another-la-union-town-says-no-to-coal-plants)


And according to Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) Executive Director Gerry Arances: “How can coal projects argue that they are the cheapest when solar and wind nowadays is around P2.99/KWh [kilowatt-hour] and P3.50/KWh compared to around P5/KWh for coal? If you weigh everything and come up with a strategic cost-benefit analysis, LGUs benefit more in rejecting these dirty and costly projects and reap the benefits that the shift bring to their constituents and their citizens right to clean and affordable energy, and right to a balanced and healthful ecology." (see https://businessmirror.com.ph/2018/08/05/lgus-going-green-rejecting-coal-projects/)


Going back to the issue on Palawan, Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, one of the lead convenors of the civil society group Save Palawan Movement (SPM) said: “Kapag natayo ‘yan, magsisisihan na tayo sa impact. Ang hirap na nyan matanggal once that is set up. The basis that it is of national significance, with all due respect, is not sound because all they have to do is to look at the Palawan Island Power Development Plan (PIPDP). Coal is not a least cost option. Ang least cost option doon ay combination of mini hydro with diesel and bunker. We have enough power supply”. (see https://palawan-news.com/denr-gives-go-ahead-to-palawan-coal-plant/)


Furthermore, the civil society group in Palawan, among others who oppose the building of new coal plants, has claimed that, apart from negating any advances we make in addressing climate change, coal power projects are dangerous to human health as it releases a number of airborne toxins and pollutants, among them mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other particulates.


I don't think the compassion one may feel for a sea turtle with a plastic straw up its nose should be greater than the compassion one might have for all the humans and wildlife whose access to clean air, water and land will be further compromised because of the building of new coal-fired power plants. We may not see the effects of climate change in the same way as we might visibly see the impact of single-use plastic, but I believe we should take as strong a stand and take whatever action we can, in our own capacity, to protect our natural resources for our own continued benefit, and that of future generations.


And I know this may sound like an oversimplification of a complex issue when many on the island may actually want reliable power, but I also believe that with enough will and creative, open-minded thinking, more sustainable options are possible to both conserve the natural environment, while ensuring that local residents are able to have a good quality of life in the long term as well.


In the meantime, I hope this decision will be put on hold and that more resources be invested in actually exploring ways to attain a sustainable future. If you've managed to read all the way til the end, then maybe you'll also sign the petition here and spread the word? :) https://www.bataris.org.ph/petitions/oppose-palawan-coal-fired-power-plant/.

©2018 by Jen Horn. Proudly created with Wix.com