Filipinos should fight for renewable energy

07 Oct 2015   lucyejwoods

LONDON—Travelling the world reporting on renewable energy, I come across all kinds of marvelous wonders, from the United States’ spectacular 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes solar power plant, stockpiling 10 hours of clean energy for when the sun isn’t shining, to futuristic plans merging GPS maps and weather data to cleanly power the entirety of Singapore. I get to see communities, cities and countries rejoicing in being 100-percent-powered by renewable energy. For years now, I’ve heard expert after expert tell governments, world leaders and business: “We’re ready with clean energy whenever you are.” But by far, the greatest wonder I’ve seen is the lengths people will go in denying this reality.
This world-changing, poverty-alleviating, climate-change-solving breakthrough is kept secret from the Filipino people. While the United States and Europe—which have far less renewable-energy resources—close down coal plants, lower electricity prices, improve citizens’ health and reduce emissions, the Philippines is left, often literally, in the dark. I still find myself bewildered at press conferences in the likes of Luzon’s Subic Bay to be told that dirty, outdated, expensive, disastrous coal is something the Filipino people is “entirely in need of.”
This sentiment came from Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who is soon to announce his plans to seek higher office. (He announced last Monday that he would run solo as vice president.—Ed.) At a press conference last Sept. 17, he dispatched the seductive argument that “nature” decides where renewable energy is deployed, that it is “not a political decision.” This after revealing his very political decision to tour the world listening to fossil-fuel giants about “clean coal” technologies. (The term “clean coal” is hot off the press releases of every fossil-fuel stakeholder the world over.)

“There have been great advances in technology,” Marcos said, adding that he has been “to coal plants in several countries and was quite impressed.” One feels the hypocrisy embedding itself deeper upon finding that wind energy is good enough for him: An 81-MW wind farm was inaugurated in Pagudpud in his home province of Ilocos Norte last year… but it’s coal for everyone else.
It appears globally universal that fossil-fuel companies are very generous when seeking political lip service. Another dazzling myth that Marcos announced was: “If [clean energy] is not commercially viable, there is no point to it”—as if the survival of climate-change-threatened towns and cities in the Philippines were somehow not worth specific government backing. As if lowering what are now the highest electricity prices in Asia, boosting local and foreign investments, combating power outages, and the reported 16 million Filipinos lacking access to electricity were not a worthy investment.
But even more startling, this implies, is that despite the numerous locations across 7,000-plus islands showing that renewable energy is far cheaper than fossil fuel, diesel and coal power are still considered worthy of government funding: These dirty power sources gain the lion’s share of taxpayer funds.
Marcos was right, however, about one thing: “There doesn’t seem to be a single policy or principle or concept that is being followed right now.”
This issue was discussed at the annual PowerTrends conference in Manila, held last Sept. 23. The question repeated at the event sponsored by Shell and Chevron was: Why is renewable energy cheaper in countries with half the natural resources? Luckily, there was one senator, Loren Legarda, who spoke science-based sense. She boldly told the crowd what any renewable energy pup learned on Day One: The Philippines is “rich in renewable energy; the amount of sun, wind and water are more than enough to power [the] entire archipelago many times over.”
Legarda then delivered the staggering news that 21 new coal plants are soon to be built in the Philippines. With this, she pleaded to energy giant Meralco not to “obstruct renewable energy,” and said that red tape and an unenlightened finance sector are the tiny obstacles all but stopping the Philippines from generating so much renewable energy that it can sell power to the rest of Asia.
In a conversation with Mattias Becker, a spokesperson for international renewable energy technology conglomerate Siemens, he said the Philippines “has great potential for renewable energy, especially solar, wind, but also biomass and other sources.” He added: “This can change the energy landscape, especially for islands and mining projects. The government should support utilities and companies and install a legal framework which goes beyond feed-in tariffs.”
Renewable-energy veteran and Greenergy Solutions CEO Ruth Briones, in another conversation, confirmed that the Philippine government is failing its people and future generations with its “slow” encouragement of renewables; “they encourage coal,” she said. Briones also said diesel operators are trying to buy politicians to keep their own pockets lined with tax subsidies.

My young and hardworking friend was all too keen to enlighten me on the scandalous 32-percent income tax that she and other Filipinos pay, and that goes directly to subsidizing these backward, corrupt fossil fuels.
“We must go for clean energy, not tomorrow, but now, and veer away from fossil fuels, especially coal,” Legarda ended her PowerTrends speech, adding that this intervention “has to come from you.” Not international journalists, or foreign companies, but you, the Filipino people. With the election season now gathering full steam, I hope that when I return, the Filipino people would have voted unanimously for fighting politicians who demand the clean energy this unforgettable country so deserves.

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