Mindanao power crisis ploy to justify coal plants – environmental groups

“This is all artificial.” – Dr. Jean Lindo, Kalikasan Party, No to Coal-Davao

By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Bulatlat.com

Manila – Environmental groups based in Mindanao slammed the recent blackouts in Mindanao as “deliberate acts” and are “part of a ploy of power distributors and the Aquino administration to justify the construction of more coal-fired power plants and other extractive energy projects such as Pulangi V Mega Dam.”

Dr. Jean Lindo, No to Coal– Davao convener and member of the newly-formed Kalikasan Party said the black outs in Mindanao are not real indicators of a power crisis.

“Power distributors can deliberately cause power black outs to happen by manipulating the power supply. This is not new. Every time these firms and investors want to build more coal-fired plants and dams, they mess around with the power supply and cry out that there’s a power crisis or an shortage in supply. This is all artificial,” he said.

Lindo said to verify the statement of Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Jose Almendras that Mindanao needed 500MW of non-hydro power resources, “an independent ENERGY AUDIT is needed to disclose the genuine power situation of Mindanao.”

Various legislators and local government officials including Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino and the two lawmakers of Gabriela Women’s Party Luz Ilagan and Emmi De Jesus have said that Congress should look deeper into the real causes of Mindanao brownouts before even considering giving President Benigno Aquino III special powers. Casiño said that “‘Old, worn out solutions won’t do to solve the Mindanao power crisis.”

“Pres. Benigno Aquino III proposed emergency powers are aimed at allowing him to enter into new contracts with the independent power producers (IPPs) without going through public bidding and the usual procurement processes. This is basically a rehash of the Ramos-era solution to the power crisis, which is to pass the ball to the private sector via onerous, oppressive, sweetheart contracts,” Casino said.

Casiño said that instead of giving Aquino emergency powers, the government should impose a temporary takeover of two power barges owned by Therma Marine, Inc. which recently entered into an ancilliary power contract with the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), resulting in the dramatic escalation of prices of generated power. He said the government should ensure that the two barges sell power at cheaper baseload prices instead of high ancilliary rates so that electric cooperatives can buy power at cheaper rates and thus, properly service their members without fear of going bankrupt.

Based on Article XII Section 17 of the Constitution, In times of national emergency, when the public interest so requires, the State may, during the emergency and under reasonable terms prescribed by it, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest.

He said that while the takeover of facilities would immediately address the artificial shortage, government should also take steps to increase actual supply for the Mindanao power grid.

Ilagan for her part agreed with No to Coal’s Lindo’s assessment that the Mindanao power crisis is an orchestrated, artificial crisis to push for the privatization of power plants and the fast-paced construction of coal fired power plants in Mindanao.

“Mindanaoans’ power needs are being held hostage in this bid to privatize and further implement the failed EPIRA.”

The Gabriela solon believes that an overhaul of the Aquino government’s energy policy is necessary and called for a probe into the so-called “power crisis in Mindanao” and a repeal of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.

Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Francis Escudero, Sec. Luwalhati Antonino of the Mindanao Development Authority (MDA), and North Cotabato Governor Lala Talinio-Mendoza have also all called for independent and impartial investigations on the power shortages.

“The EPIRA gave private corporations practical control over the power industry and in no way did it fulfill its promise of giving Filipinos, especially Mindanaoans, cheaper and more affordable electricity. The EPIRA paved the way for profit-driven energy production in the country. Unless the EPIRA is repealed and the power industry is nationalized, Filipinos will continue to be at the mercy of private power multinationals.”

The MDA in Mindanao has accused the National Grid Corporation of creating an artificial power shortage to encourage the privatization of the Agus-Pulangi hydropower plants. Local electric cooperatives such as the Association of Mindanao Rural Electric Cooperatives (AMRECO) and Davao Del Sur Electric Cooperative (DASURECO) have also decried the sham power crisis.

No to dirty coal plants

Lindo said there are other crucial reasons to oppose the establishment of coal-fired power plants.

“Aside from the environmental destruction and the health risks wrought by coal plants, coal fired power plants’ main clients are foreign mining corporations, which are voracious consumers of energy. Foreign mines in Mindanao take up a lot of our energy supply, ” he said.

Lindo said the energy industry in Mindanao has fallen into the hands of the corporate oligarchy, among these is Aboitiz Power Corporation, which is one of the three major investors in power generation and distribution all over the country.

“A few companies have absolute control over power rates and can pump up power rates without warrant,” said Lindo.

Based on reports, the Aquino administration has insisted on the construction of coal plants throughout the country: in Isabela, Batangas, Manila, Quezon, Zambales, Davao del Sur, Saranggani and South Cotabato provinces. The year 2011 saw the inauguration of power plants in Cebu and Iloilo. The government has granted tax holidays to companies investing on coal plants, such as Japanese corporation TeaM Energy in Pagbilao, Quezon, Petron in Limay, Bataan, and Therma South, Inc. of Aboitiz in Davao City.

Francis Morales, secretary-general of Panalipdan Southern Mindanao said the president should be more aware of the impact of coal-fired plants.

“Aquino has to end his abominable ignorance on the economic and environmental effects of coal plants, and mega dams. Coal plants and mega dams are deadly solutions. We have to go for sustainable energy sources,” he said. “While the Aboitiz company has argued the towering costs of maintaining hydropower plants due to its vulnerability to ‘weather conditions,’ hydropower plants have fallen into a state of disrepair due to premeditated government neglect.”

According to Morales, siltation from degraded watersheds is the main reason for the decreasing generation capacity of hydropower plants. Watershed degradation occurs for various reasons including deforestation, overexploitation and overgrazing, primeval irrigation techniques, population growth and other natural causes.

Harness clean, renewable power sources

Bayan Muna’s Casiño also said that in the short to medium term, the government should cancel plans to privatize the Agus river hydroelectric plants and instead rehabilitate and expand them to increase the supply of cheap, clean and renewable energy in Mindanao.

“And if we are talking about quickly addressing anymore supply gaps, what can be done within the next six to nine months is deploy solar power systems that can beef up power during peak demand periods, which is the same time that solar energy is at its peak,” he said.

Saying that privatization and deregulation of the power industry are at the root of the crisis in Mindanao, Casiño called for “new approaches premised on the regulation of the industry and the increased role of the government in ensuring cheap and stable power for the people.” (http://bulatlat.com)

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