Expanded environmental rights and anti-coal drama

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last Tuesday, April 03, 2018.

Matter is energy … Energy is light … We are all light beings.”

— Albert Einstein

Several recent events in the Philippines energy sector which when implemented, might mean an extended and long-term penitence for electricity consumers nationwide.

One is the planned expanded “environmental rights” to be put in the draft Constitution by Retired Chief Justice and Consultative Committee (ConCom) Chairman Reynato Puno. Two, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) meeting with anti-coal groups Sanlakas and Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) with the ERC saying that it will “explore the possibility of incorporating environmental policies into its relevant upcoming policies…”

The ConCom chairman’s plan will open up a floodgate of endless environmental militance. It will be harder for companies to put up new airports and expressways, new malls and commercial districts, new factories and industrial zones, new universities and residential condos, new coal or gas plants because militants and environmental lobbyists can easily assert that the area is “reserved” for nature. But they can easily lobby to put up expansive “green” solar plants, wind farms, etc.

Chairman Puno said the expanded environmental rights will cover “Right to clean air and clean water, right to a healthy environment and ecology…”

If that is the case, government should prohibit candles and gensets in cases of brownouts. Gensets are noisy and run on diesel and hence, very polluting. Candles often cause fires. People should rely only on intermittent wind-solar as much as possible. If the wind does not blow and if the sun does not shine, people will be then left to endure brownouts.

Chairman Puno also said that there will be “stronger writ of kalikasan in the bill of rights so that it may not be subject to withdrawal or revision by the Congress or the Supreme Court.”

This is related to the second event as there are many anti-coal groups which also hate any brownouts that coal plants precisely want to prevent.

In August 2012, a group of ecologist-militants and allied organizations have successfully stopped the construction of a 600 MW coal power plant in Subic on the “writ of kalikasan” argument issued by the Supreme Court. The delay in the construction of that big power plant has contributed to higher price pressure in the Luzon grid in recent years.

Anti-coal activists think that all MW are the same.

This is wrong.

A 100 MW from wind or solar plant at 11 a.m. can become 20 MW or 5 MW at 11:05 a.m. when the wind suddenly stops blowing, when clouds grow dark, or when it rains. Whereas a 100 MW from coal or gas will be 100 MW for 24 hours whether the wind blows or not, whether it is a sunny or cloudy day or night time.

Below are some numbers for ASEAN countries from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Demand for power generation is in million tons oil equivalent (mtoe), electrical capacity in Gigawatts (1GW = 1,000 MW), and electricity generation in terawatthours (TWh). 2000 and 2015 data are actual, 2016 are estimates, 2025 and 2030 are projections (see table).


Check out the numbers for coal — projected electrical capacity in the region in 2030 is only 29% of total but projected electricity generation is 40% of total. The opposite is the case for other renewables (wind, solar, geothermal), nearly 11% of power capacity in 2030 but projected to produce only 7.4% of actual electricity. If geothermal is removed from this group, electricity generation will become even smaller.

During the S&P Global/Platts’ Philippine Energy Forum last March 20, 2018 at Grand Hyatt BGC, S&P analyst Deepak Kannan observed that from 2000 to 2016 in the ASEAN, “Oil continues to be a dominant source of energy accounting for 34%, coal demand has more than tripled accounting for 17%.”

It is not wise that environmental militance be incorporated in the Constitution. Any environmental advocacy should be done via legislation, not put in the charter. The ERC should also be wary not to commit anything to the anti-coal groups because they hop from one venue to another to promote their ecological-socialist agenda.


Estimating electricity price hikes because of TRAIN, Part 2

* This is my article in BusinessWorld on March 19, 2018.


Part 1 of this short study was published in this column on Feb. 15. Some corrections and adjustments are made here because of (a) lower coal consumption for power generation, and (b) using an incremental increase in coal excise tax.

Total coal consumption in 2016 was 23.2 million tons but one industry player informed me that not all of these were used for coal power plants. Some were used for cement plants and other industrial uses. The estimated amount used for coal power generation is 20 million tons.

Coal excise tax before TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) was P10/ton, the law has increased this per ton to P50 in 2018, P100 in 2019, and P150 in 2020. The incremental increase is used in the table below.

Meralco computation of oil cost for their captive customers based on November 2017 data was 0.6 centavos/kWh in 2018 when oil tax is only P2.50/liter. There are no projections for 2019-2020 so I estimated the numbers for these years using the respective oil tax rates of P4.50 then P6/liter.

Oil share in Meralco power distribution that period was only 0.9% of total. In 2016, oil share to total power generation nationwide was 6.2%. So a multiplier of 7x (= 6.2/0.9) is used for the national oil tax rate.

Before, VAT on transmission charge was minimal, it applied only on ancillary service. With TRAIN, the VAT is applied on other transmission costs (power delivery, system operator, metering, etc.).

Hike in universal charge is not included here but this might be minimal. Many island provinces and remote islands of big provinces get electricity from gensets running on diesel. The generation cost is naturally high, from P10-20/kwh but residents there are not charged that full amount, a big portion is subsidized and passed on to all other consumers nationwide via the universal charge.

Last month, the Energy Policy Development Program (EPDP) published a new study, “Electricity prices and TRAIN” by Dr. Ramon L. Clarete. It is a neat study because it considered variations in heat content per coal type (Yes, not all coal are the same, the same way that not all dogs are the same). For brevity purposes, I added only a portion of his table 5 which summarize the projected hikes in electricity prices because of TRAIN (see table).


So from my estimates, there will be a projected electricity price hike in centavos/kWh of 13.4 this year, nearly 20 in 2019, and 24.6 in 2020.

The estimates by Dr. Clarete are much higher. By 2020, 14 centavos/kWh for coal plants and P1.67/kWh for diesel plants. VAT on these hikes are not included yet, and VAT on transmission charge also not included.

In addition, Dr. Clarete used coal price for 2016 in his study. The average price per ton of thermal coal was $70 in 2014, $58 in 2015, $66 in 2016, $85 in 2017 (Q1-Q3), data from statista.com. In the first three months of 2018 it is around $100 average.

So with 2018 prices about 50% higher than 2016 prices, the projected rise in electricity price from coal plants would be higher than his estimated 14 centavos/kWh, perhaps could go up to 18 centavos or higher.

These costs are for direct household electricity consumption alone. Not included are pass-on rates in the form of higher prices by factories, schools and universities, shops and malls, hotels and restaurants, hospitals and airports, etc. These enterprises consume tens of thousands of kWh per month, the additional electricity cost will be passed on the consumers, which might affect sales and hence, affect future salaries and benefits of workers.

The tax hike for coal and oil products is among the worst mistakes of TRAIN law. Retaining the high 12% VAT is another. Government has no justification in making cheaper energy become expensive. We hope that these mistakes will be recognized soon so that succeeding TRAIN 2, TRAIN 3, etc. will either reverse them, or at least not make them even worse.

Avoiding brownouts due to gensets, not solar battery

This story contains half-truths and hence, can be considered as fake news.


Five reasons why:

(1) “Leviste to bring cheaper, more reliable power to areas poorly served by utilities”

–> Solar + battery will never be cheap in the short-term. Long term perhaps. I think Leviste’s current cost of solar + battery is at least P5.90/kWh (higher than P4/kWh for coal, natgas, others) and it cannot produce electricity 24 hours straight especially when it is cloudy and raining for many hours during daytime.

(2) “project utilising 2MW of PV panels… 2MWh of Tesla’s Powerpack battery… and 2MW of diesel backup.”

–> Imagine that?  solar PV + Tesla battery + diesel genset, that cannot be cheap. With higher diesel prices because of TRAIN, gensets would cost at least P10-15/kWh. They will need the genset to run every night, 365 nights a year because there are days and weeks where the Sun doesn’t shine (monsoon season, 1-2 weeks, sometimes 3 weeks, of rains and thick clouds non-stop).

(3) “supply reliable power 24 hours a day, over the entire year, at 50% less than the full cost of the local electric supply”

–> Partly true because islands that run on power barges and huge gensets and hence, run on 100% oil really have high electricity cost, between P10-25/kWh depending on the remoteness of the island. But they are not mentioning this comparison.

(4) “This includes a 5,000MW proposal to replace all planned coal plants with solar-plus-storage.”

–> Outright disinformation and dishonesty. To have 1MW of installed solar PV will need about 1.2 to 1.5 hectare of land. So if one targets 5,000 MW installed solar, one will need 6,000 to 7,500 hectares of land, zero crops, zero tree because solar hates shade from any tree. And with only about 18% capacity factor (36% day time, zero at night), a 5,000 MW solar plant can actually produce only 900 MW on average, not 5,000 MW.

(5) “Mindoro, while particularly badly affected, is by far the only part of the Philippines where brownouts impair productivity and quality of life.”

–> Wrong. Many islands and provinces still have regular “Earth Hours” until now. Palawan, Masbate, Romblon, Marinduque, etc.

Mindoro island, composed of two provinces Mindoro Or. and Occ. is growing very fast because of the RORO system where hundreds (or thousand plus?) of cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks traverse daily from Manila/Batangas to Panay island (4 provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo) and vice versa. A number of big tourism areas like Puerto Galera, Abra de Ilog. Mindoro does not have its own power plant. It is time that it must have its own, at least a medium-size 100 MW coal or hydro plant.

A more appropriate title would be “No more brownouts! Philippines town hails arrival of diesel genset.”

A genset will give electricity 24/7 even if the Sun does not shine for weeks due to monsoon rains and daily thick clouds. Just put diesel continuously and have regular maintenance. The cost though will be 3x to 5x or more than that of a coal plant or hydro plant. Mindoro has lots of rivers because the island has plenty of big and tall mountains. Big and small hydro, run-of-river hydro should be feasible in some areas.

TRAIN, inflation and emerging DOE price control

* This is my column in BusinessWorld on March 5, 2018.


More countries are reporting their January 2018 inflation rate and it is becoming clearer that majority of them have reigned in the inflationary pressure of the big rise in world oil prices. West Texas Instrument (WTI) prices, for instance, rose from $43.2/barrel in 2016 to $50.9/barrel in 2017, and $63.7/barrel in January 2018.

Of the 13 major Asian economies in the table, 10 have experienced a decline in their inflation rate compared to their December 2017 level and only three, including the Philippines, have experienced an increase. But the rise in the Philippines was big 0.7 percentage points (see table).


The big question is: Why is the Philippines the outlier in Asia in inflation rate movement?

The proximate reason is the recent tax law, RA 10963, known as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN). The cut in personal income tax was good, but it was more than negated by the tax hike in oil and other commodities — coal, sugar beverage, etc. The anticipated pass-on effects of such tax hikes should be big.

How about Japan, which experienced a 0.3% point increase? There are two possible explanations.

One, it is experiencing a re-inflation trend after deflation in 2016 of -0.1%, then 0.5% in 2017. Two, it has a tax reform bill in 2018 that includes a 15% tax credit for corporations if their workers have higher pay of at least 3%, and if domestic investment in depreciable assets is equal to or more than 90% of depreciation. This means there will be expected higher household consumption due to higher salaries for workers and managers, and higher re-investments.


The effect of TRAIN on electricity prices would be felt in four avenues.

  1. Oil tax hike (for peaking plants in WESM), about 1 centavo/kWh.
  1. Coal tax hike (P10/ton to P50/ton in 2018), another 1 centavo/kWh.
  1. VAT application on electricity transmission charge, about 6-7 centavos/kWh.
  1. Rise in universal charge (a big hike in electricity cost for many islands and provinces running on gensets/oil, subsidy passed on nationwide), perhaps another 1 centavo/kWh.

Sources for the first three points are Meralco as reported in the papers.


Last January, the Department of Energy (DoE) directed all distribution utilities (DUs) to require their power suppliers, the generation companies (gencos) to explain any additional charges that will arise from TRAIN.

Then last February, the DoE suggested that gencos should absorb the initial cost of higher oil and coal taxes. Meaning there will be no pass-on to the consumers. This was never done before.

In addition, the DoE also mandated the oil companies extend subsidies to public utility vehicles (PUVs) as a “cost cushioning mechanism.” This is another no pass-on policy.

These are price control measures. These are ugly policies to make the ugly tax hikes under TRAIN appear “less ugly” and “non-inflationary.”


The architects and apologists of TRAIN are confused and are engaged in double-talk.

First, they make cheaper oil and coal become expensive, then deny the potential big inflationary pressure of such a measure.

Second, when inflationary pressure is higher than their projected and concocted figures, they blame speculators and not the law that created speculation.

Third, TRAIN exhibited favoritism and cronyism for renewable energies (REs) like wind-solar because their feed-in-tariff (FiT) revenues from WESM, then FiT-All, were again exempted from VAT. Natural gas is also fossil fuel but TRAIN did not slap it with excise tax, only oil and coal.

Fourth, TRAIN’s architects deny that additional revenues were largely meant to favor Chinese contractors and suppliers because many big projects that were already under the integrated PPP were reversed and put under “hybrid” PPP to be financed by ODA and foreign loans from China.

Fifth, they now propose price control measures in energy and other sectors to make TRAIN look “less ugly” and “non-inflationary.”

The Communist Party of China and Xi Jinping’s “thoughts on socialism” could be a rising influence in the economic and energy policies of the Philippines. This is wrong.

The Philippines should stay the course of more market reforms, not more state interventions and taxation. China’s communism and dictatorship is a lousy “model” that should never be entertained by the Philippines and other developing economies.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is President of Minimal Government Thinkers, a member-institute of Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia.

Solar insecurity, energy stability and affordability

* This is my column in BusinessWorld on February 26, 2018.


“When PV Solar rely on up to 67% of revenues from subsidies, the state becomes a counter-party that is critical to sustaining the firm’s financial viability. Vagaries of politics imply constantly changing priorities, making for a fickle advocate.”

— Ricardo Barcelona,

author of Energy Investment: An Adaptive Approach to Profiting from Uncertainties (2017).

This is a lesson and reality that will be hard to appreciate for solar energy advocates and developers, that without politics, without forcing and coercing energy consumers to subsidize, directly or indirectly, solar, wind, and other renewables, their advocacy is a losing proposition.

Last Thursday, Feb. 22, I attended the Energy Policy Development Program (EPDP) lecture at the UP School of Economics (UPSE), my alma mater. The speaker was Mr. Leandro Leviste, president of Solar Philippines and his presentation was “Cheap Electricity for a First World Philippines: The 24/7 Solar-Storage Revolution.”

Mr. Leviste boldly declared in his presentation that “Solar is now the least cost for all peaking, mid-merit and baseload requirements, and will thus comprise the vast majority of additional power generation capacity from hereon in the Philippines.”

This is simply not true. If solar is indeed “least cost,” solar developers should have stopped asking for rising feed-in-tariff (FiT) or guaranteed high price for 20 years under the Renewable Energy (RE) law of 2008.

FIT rates for solar batch 1 (2015 entrants) were P9.68/kWh in 2015, P9.91 in 2016 and P10.26 in 2017. For solar batch 2 (2016 entrants), P8.69/kWh in 2016 and P8.89 in 2017. Solar and wind developers are feasting on billions of pesos of additional, expensive electricity slam-dunked on hapless consumers on top of the 11-12 different charges in their monthly electricity bill.

During the open forum, I asked Mr. Leviste two questions:

(1) Will you support the abolition of RE law of 2008 since your presentation shows plenty of improvements and cost reduction for solar, meaning they can survive without FiT, RPS, other subsidies and mandates?

(2) You advocate large-scale solar development in the Philippines, therefore you advocate large-scale deforestation of the country? You showed a big picture of your solar farm in Batangas, zero tree there, anti-green. Solar hates shades – from clouds and trees.

His response to #1 was Yes, we can abolish the RE law but we should also abolish the EPIRA law of 2001, the pass-through cost provisions. To question #2, he said that there are trees outside the solar farm and there are moves to plant crops under the solar panels.

Meaning his answer to #1 is No. On #2, precisely that trees are allowed only outside the solar farm because solar hates shades from trees. While many environmentalists including Sen. Loren Legarda repeatedly say “Plant trees to save the planet,” solar developers like Leandro Leviste are implicitly saying “remove and kill all trees (in solar farms) to save the planet.” The irony of green environmentalism.

The call for “green, environmentally-sustainable energy” is repeatedly echoed in the Philippines and other countries. And many of these advocates are unaware that in the annual report, “World Energy Trilemma Index” by the World Energy Council (WEC), the Philippines is #1 out of 125 countries for several years now in environmental sustainability.

WEC is a UN-accredited global energy body composed of 3,000+ organizations from 90+ countries (governments, private and state corporations, academe, etc) NGOs, other energy stakeholders). The Trilemma index is composed of three factors, briefly defined as:

Energy security: effective energy supply from domestic and external sources, reliability of infrastructure and ability of energy providers to meet current and future demand.

Energy equity: accessibility and affordability of energy supply across the population.

Environmental stability: achievement of energy efficiencies and development of energy supply from renewable and other low-carbon sources (see table).


(The indicators represent economies as follows, from left to right: Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and India)

The Philippines is #1 out of 125 countries covered in Environmental Sustainability. There is high reliance on conventional renewables like big hydro and geothermal, plus newly added variable renewables. There is no need to aspire for rank #0.5 worldwide

Ranking 95th, we are low in energy equity because of our expensive electricity, which is 3rd highest in Asia, next to Japan and Hong Kong.

We place 63rd in energy security — in the middle — and we still need to add big conventional plants like coal to give us 24/7 stable, dispatchable energy to meet demand.

To conclude, these words from Ric Barcelona resonate:


“When subsidies are set as the costs differences, the ‘correct’ level is indeterminate. As power prices increase, renewables need lesser subsidies but nevertheless continue to collect. When this happens, consumers would coax regulators to claw back the subsidies because renewables are raking it in at consumers’ expense.”

“Last chance” to save the planet stories, 1992-2018

The “planet saviors”, their leaders, they are a bunch of jokers and story tellers. See the timeline of their “last chance” warnings to save the planet unless we send them trillions and trillions of dollars.  There were many similar stories in between these years, I just show random stories from 1992 to 2018. Enjoy.

(1) “FEATURE: Last chance to save the planet?”
New Scientist, By Fred Pearce,  30 May 1992,

(2) “A Global Warming Treaty’s Last Chance”
TIME, By Katherine Bonamici Monday, July 16, 2001,

(3) “Climate talks ‘last chance’ to avoid catastrophe”
2 Dec, 2007, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10479692

(4) “Cancun climate change talks: ‘last chance’ in the snakepit”
By Geoffrey Lean 6:32AM GMT 29 Nov 2010,

(5) “Climate change: Paris ‘last chance’ for action”
By Helen Briggs, BBC Environment Correspondent 22 April 2015

 (6) “Bill McKibben: This Is Our Last Chance to Save the Planet”
By Start Making Sense and Jon Wiener APRIL 20, 2017

(7) “Global Warming and Climate Instability: One Last Chance to Save Ourselves”
By Richard Gale and Dr. Gary Null
Global Research, March 12, 2018,


A compilation of “The hilarious legacy of ‘last chances’ for climate, exposed” by Anthony Watts, WUWT November 2, 2015,

Also a compilation of “last chance” as of June 2016,

And from The GWPF, March 5, 2018,

Among the precedent stories and scare made in the 1980s, the creation of UN IPCC. the UN FCCC in 1992, among the basis of “last chance to save the planet” report in 1992 by the New Scientist.

Sources: https://www.carbonbrief.org/warming-warning-1981-tv-documentary-warned-climate-change


Since this is a UN-sponsored alarmism and scam, parroted by almost all governments in the planet +  many showbiz and media personalities + many environmental NGOs, this scam will continue in the decades to come. So I think this will be among the news headline in the future:

2030: “This will be our last chance to save the planet”

2040: “Our last-last chance to save the planet”

2050: “Only 1 year left to really save the planet”

….. J

And these “planet saviours” — UN and government climate negotiators, environmental NGOs, academics, media, consultants, etc. — tell us that we should have more expensive energy, more unstable-intermittent-subsidy-dependent energy, more expensive e-jeepneys and e-tricycles, more climate bureaucracies and bureaucrats, more endless global climate junkets.

Meanwhile, here’s is the latest data on global air temperature, the lower troposphere as of end-February 2018, UAH data.



2017 11 +0.36 +0.33 +0.38 +0.26
2017 12 +0.41 +0.50 +0.33 +0.26
2018 01 +0.26 +0.46 +0.06 -0.12
2018 02 +0.20 +0.24 +0.15 +0.03


Estimating electricity price hikes resulting from TRAIN

* This is my article in BusinessWorld on February 15, 2018.


Electricity and energy means development. So an increased electricity supply at a lower, more stable, and more competitive price results in increased development.

Increased development means more businesses and job creation and less unemployment and poverty.

As a result, it is anti-development to impose new or higher taxes that will make electricity prices more expensive.

The new tax law called Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusiveness (TRAIN) did just that.

It imposed new taxes or raised existing taxes on oil products, coal, and electricity transmission. But TRAIN played favoritism by exempting from tax hikes natural gas and intermittent energy like wind and solar.

The Philippines inflation rate jumped to 4% in January 2018 from 3.3% in November-December 2017. Other Asian countries experienced flat or lower inflation last month. Why?

The most proximate explanation is the TRAIN law, even if various pass-through costs have yet to take effect. For instance, the hikes in coal tax, bunker fuel tax and VAT on transmission charge will be felt starting February billing. The expected inflationary pressure especially for oil price hikes contributed to this situation.

The table below is an attempt at quantifying the projected electricity price hikes because of TRAIN.


These estimates are made on certain assumptions that are based on available data. Changes in assumptions and more comprehensive, national data will change the results, upward or downward but the numbers will not be significant.

Based on these estimates, paying an extra 14 centavos/kWh this year, 21 centavos/kWh in 2019, and 27 centavos/kWh in 2020 might appear small for those consuming only 200 kWh/month. This consumption level implies that a household doesn’t have any air-con but maintains a small refrigerator and a few electric lights may have to pay an extra P28/month, P42/month and P54/month in 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively.

But that is only for direct household electricity consumption. People who live in those small houses may work and/or purchase services in factories, schools, and universities, shops and malls, hotels and restaurants, hospitals and airports, etc. These enterprises consume tens of thousands of kWh per month and the additional electricity cost will be passed on the consumers, which might affect sales and hence, affect future salaries and benefits of workers.

Oplas-021518-768x402TRAIN 1 made a big mistake of raising the cost of energy in the country. The only consolation is that the law did not impose the whole oil tax hike of P6/liter in 2018 because it staggered the hikes in three years. And the law did not follow the distortionary Habito coal tax proposal of P600/ton, or even the Legarda proposal of P100, P200, P300/ton coal tax from 2018-2020.

TRAIN 2 tax bill should not entertain additional energy tax hikes.

Expensive electricity is never a virtue as so many things that we do now require electricity. TRAIN 2 should in fact cut more national and energy taxes because the Duterte administration is serious in its federalism agenda by allowing the states to create their own taxes and their own new government agencies.

With these things in mind, I leave you with a reminder from former US president Ronald Reagan: “The problem is not that the people are taxed too little. The problem is that government spends too much.”