Alex Magno on REs and the anti-coal activists

I just saw this article by Alex Magno, published last July, reposting here.

alex magno

There is a hidden agenda here, to be sure. The known pawns of oligarchic interests are all in play.

It is an agenda pursued even if our energy security is compromised. It is an agenda thinly veiled under the cloak of environmental protection, seeking to protect unjust cross-subsidies through the feed-in tariffs (FIT) that guarantee the profits of a few companies while penalizing all consumers.

If there is any real anomaly in the fact that Filipino consumers still pay among the highest electricity rates in Asia, it has to be the cross-subsidies consumers are forced to cough up to eliminate the business risks of those who invest in so-called “renewable energy” (RE) that does not provide baseload power and is sometimes not even dispatched to the distribution utilities.

No one disagrees with the use of RE – except that, at its technological infancy, it is neither cheap nor reliable. With the exception of hydroelectric plants, RE is an expensive adornment hung around the neck of consumers. It makes rich environmentalists happy and consumers miserable.

No one disagrees with increasing the proportion of RE in our energy profile – as long as it is not subsidized to the extent of making investments risk-free. This is like robbing the consumers in broad daylight.

We will also have to agree that we need coal plants. By the sheer volume of our rising power demand, we need cheap and reliable sources of power to provide us a stable baseload generating capacity. That will insulate us from shortages and prevent speculators from playing the wholesale electricity spot market every time reserves become thin.

Coal is not the cleanest way to generate electricity. That is sure, although new technologies have immensely improved adverse impact on the environment. Some even describe these new technologies “clean coal.”

But there is no need to demonize coal. If we do not use available coal-fired plants using cleaner technologies, our power costs will spike sky-high. If we close the coal-fired plants today, we will not only be paying an arm and a leg for the electricity we need. We will have to deal with power shortages that will cripple our economy and bring misery to the poorest of the poor.

Remember that time during the late eighties when then President Cory Aquino mothballed the nuclear power plant and abolished the Ministry of Energy. The whole country was thrown into darkness. Our already shrinking economy shrunk even more. Misery multiplied.

In the name of fighting climate change, oligarchic interests have mounted a campaign to demonize coal, block the construction of critically needed generating capacity and bring down power costs. We need to examine the hidden agenda in this campaign with a sharper analytical eye.

Obsession

A number of leftist groups have made demonizing coal plants a cottage industry of sorts even if that crusade can only harm the national economy.

A few days ago, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate hastily convened a press conference where he angrily condemned the ERC’s decision to allow a power generator to construct a P1.7 billion transmission line to deliver its power production. His obedient militants stormed the ERC offices in Ortigas, protesting what they allege is “self-dealing” between Meralco and its power generating subsidiary. They described the investment in a new transmission line as an additional burden on the pockets of consumers.

But how did they expect the power produced to be delivered to the market? Electricity can only be delivered through power lines.

If they decry transmission lines as a “burden” to consumers, how do they intend to bring the electricity to the end-users? Investment in transmission capacity is an investment in infrastructure. They might as well argue against any new investment in generating capacity because this will “burden” consumers.

They might as well, for that matter, argue against investing in modern mass transport because consumers will end up paying for them. This is exactly the argument of Bayan Muna’s ideological cousins opposing phasing out the jeepneys.

This sort of argument is jaundiced. It does not take into account the benefits greater efficiency (or greater power generation capacity) brings to the national economy.

Bayan Muna’s ideological fellow traveler Sanlakas for its part staged a protest action at the Supreme Court to support a petition for continuing Mandamus with Temporary Environmental Protection Order against the construction of coal plants. They criticize the Duterte administration for allowing the construction of coal plants to meet rising energy demand.

Their own public statements, however, reveal the real agenda behind their supposedly environmental clamor. In decrying power supply agreements they call “midnight deals” and in denouncing the approval of coal-fired baseload plants, they say that government should only allow renewable energy plants.

In an ideal universe, it would of course be preferential to have only clean energy. But ours is not an ideal universe. If we shift to exclusively renewable energy sources, we will basically triple the costs of power. If we do that, our industries will not be competitive. We will wallow in an economic depression, cutting down our forests to cook food and slaughtering mammals to make candles.

They want us to burn down our homes to produce firewood – and call that “environmentalism.” The positions taken by these leftist groups have no roots in either science or economics.  They do not even have roots in common sense.

Nothing, however, reveals the puppeteer behind this anti-coal campaign more than the fact that the protestors are attacking only the seven power supply agreements they associate with Meralco and not the 80 others awaiting ERC approval.

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