The FEF on unjustified RE law subsidies

* Originally posted on June 15, 2011.

The Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) has produced a new statement, Manifesto Against Increases in Power Rates to Subsidize Solar and Wind Energy Producers and to Guarantee their Superprofits. Portions of it below. Click to get a larger image.

I am not exactly a fan of the FEF, but on certain issues, I support their campaigns. Like this one, to expose the racket and legalized robbery in the Renewable Energy (RE) law, where we, ordinary energy consumers in the Philippines, will be forced to pay even higher electricity rates to the already high rates, to subsidize the RE power plants of the new energy cronies.

Towards the closing paragraphs of the statement, the FEF says,

We believe that the subsidy in the form of Feed-in-Tariff rates should NOT be given to existing power producers as this will mean a tremendous windfall for them. These producers are already enjoying tax and duty free incentives and will not add to the nation’s power supply.

I think it’s already late for the FEF and the public to complain about the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) system. It’s already in the law. The strong RE lobby, led then by the World Wide Fund (WWF), Greenpeace and other climate alarmist groups, made sure that the new energy cronies will get such incentive in order to help “save the planet.” Those lobbyists for RE cronyism will insist that the law should be implemented.

But if public pressure to set aside the FIT provision will be strong as it will mean even more expensive electricity rates, perhaps the RE producers and cronies will be ashamed to push for it. It’s a good fight worth pursuing.

Once people fall for climate alarmism and the various racket and rent-seeking provisions, regulations and taxation that the alarmists and governments want, they’re trapped. It just happened that a number of the FEF Fellows and members are part of the climate alarmism movement.

Meanwhile, here’s another article from Boo Chanco today.

Renewable energy

Beyond the subsidy called Feed-in Tariff, there are other things that ought to be looked at before we agree to allow them to put additional burdens on our power users. For instance, it is not clear, the position paper of the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) observes, what is it exactly that the envisioned FIT program is supposed to buy us?

“Is it to lower our carbon emissions in order to help arrest global warming? Our carbon footprint is a rounding error vs. the large and more industrialized countries, and our RE component, at 30 to 40 percent of installed capacity, is already five times the global average.”

Romy Bernardo who spearheaded the paper’s drafting illustrates: The subsidy cost for solar per kWh is over P12. (calculated as the FIT rate of P17.95 less avoided cost of P4.50/kwh or the cost of buying at the current grid cost). One can lower consumption of power by giving away new efficient light bulbs that produce 60 watts of brightness at 15 watts use of power. Based on the calculation, by an ADB expert, the cost of doing this translates to $0.025 per kWh saved, roughly ten centavos/kWh saved. The numbers are striking– P12 solar vs. P0.10 for energy efficient light bulbs.

In short, just give free light bulbs and you can do more than 100 times the benefit in terms of reducing carbon footprint for the same peso spent from public purse. A slightly clever solar operator selling at FiT rates can put solar panels under a light bulb, run even when there is no sunlight (like even night time) to get paid for power at P 17.95 per kWh, and only incur cost of P4.50 per kWh to buy power from the grid for the light bulbs.


Boo Chanco on the RE law cronyism

* Originally posted on June 02, 2011.

I seldom read newspapers, much less their columnists. I read more a few blogs that I follow everyday, especially science blogs pertaining to climate science, then the facebook updates of my friends, including the news articles that they recommend. Then I read some of those articles or opinions.

The renewable energy (RE) racket “to save the planet” is still on-going. Mind you, they plan to steal from us around P9 billion (roughly US$ 207 million at current P43.3/$ exchange rate) every year for the next 20 years. It’s not a new tax that will go to the government. Rather, it’s an add-on cost that we energy consumers in the Philippines will have to pay extra to the already high electricity prices, to subsidize those expensive solar and wind farms.

Luckily, there are a few local newspaper columnists who have written about the RE racket. Like FEF Fellows Romy Bernardo of BusinessWorld, and Boo Chanco of the Philippine Star.

Last May 27, 2011, Boo Chanco wrote in the Philippine Star:

Renewable energy

Here is something to think about for us electricity consumers, already burdened by one of the highest electricity rates in the world. We are being asked to subsidize the cost of electricity produced by solar, wind and other so-called renewables through the mechanism of the so-called feed in tariff or FIT.

Unless we speak up, we will be forced to shell out some P9 billion every year for FIT for 20 long years… even after technology has made those renewables economically competitive. Of that amount, 50 percent goes to solar and wind, even if they will only account for 20 percent of the RE generated power under the FIT program.

There are those who say we have such a small carbon footprint and because we use significant amounts of geothermal and hydro, our electricity generation mix is already at least 32 percent renewable compared to the US which is under 10 percent. That means the Philippines is already contributing three times as much RE as the US on a country basis.

So why subsidize these fashionable RE technologies now? Why can’t we just wait for the more technologically advanced and financially capable developed countries to shepherd these technologies along until no subsidy will be required? Ironically, these developed countries are cutting back on their RE subsidies lately, notably in Europe.

I understand that even the National Grid will have to shell out substantial capex. It has to cope with all these small power sources going on and off the grid all the time without destabilizing the system. Guess who pays for the National Grid investments?…

Today, Boo wrote again on the RE subsidy racket.

Solar + Wind = Hot Air

… Indeed, solar is still a technology undergoing development. Eventually, it should be commercially viable or competitive with conventional energy. Right now, the only way to make it viable is to subsidize it. It is the same thing with wind. They call that subsidy feed-in-tariff (FiT), a fancy term for the amount they want to add to our electricity bills supposedly to encourage more use of this type of renewable energy.

Some local economists have raised an alarm about going overboard on this FiT in our mindless haste to be seen as fashionably earth loving. The manufacturers of solar and wind energy equipment have successfully lobbied Congress into passing a law that mandates the granting of this subsidy. It also mandates the inclusion of RE into our electricity mix. Because our legislators were only after PR mileage to be seen as being ecologically correct, the law gave no regard to cost implications for our consumers and our industries.

Romy Bernardo, a Ramos era undersecretary of finance, is critical of the P9 billion annual cost of FiT (times 20 years or P180 billion). Of this, 50 per- cent goes to solar and wind, even if they will only account for 20 percent of the RE generated power under the FiT program. “Let’s decide what the public can afford,” Bernardo urges. “It certainly cannot be the P7 to P9 billion PER YEAR over a contract period of 20 years, given the already high cost of power.”

Bernardo is correct. Even the RE developers acknowledge that today’s RE prices are expected to come down. One executive working on the solar initiatives of a local conglomerate told their stockholders meeting just this week that it will take three to five years to reach grid parity based on global studies.

The solar industry is growing so fast, he said, and economies of scale are kicking in. “In the Philippines, projection is by 2015 to 2017, we should reach grid parity.” So why not wait? And why give them subsidy for 20 years when the technology is at grid parity in five? The initial price setting should only be made applicable for the next three or five years. After that, we should review again.

Even if we end up with less RE because we have been too cautious, it would be worse to err on the side of paying too much, locking in the mistake for 20 long years. We already have, in any case, at 34 percent, more RE capacity installed as a percentage of total electricity generated than the US and most European countries. We can afford to wait for the technologies to mature and come down in price.

The Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), a public advocacy group espousing market-oriented reform for good governance, has taken the position that “Renewable Energy subsidies must be transparent, limited and technology neutral.” The FEF believes the Feed-in-Tariffs to be issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) must provide for an absolute peso cap on the total amount of subsidies that the public will be made to bear, capped both on an annual basis and for the life of the project.

The FEF also wants to make sure that the amount of public subsidy for RE projects should be explicitly disclosed and shown to be commensurate to the social benefit that the public is expected to derive from this program. The outlay should be transparently evaluated based on “value for money” to the public.

The FEF also urged the ERC to consider the ability of the public to shoulder additional levies on a per kWh cost of power. As FEF president Toti Chikiamco puts it, “it’s not only household consumers who will suffer but industry too. It will reduce the competitiveness of Philippine industry, already burdened with one of the highest power rates in the region and a strong peso.”

The FEF economists also think we should buy the cheapest RE available before we buy the more expensive technology. They point out that based on the numbers of the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB), it appears that we can subsidize 11 kwh of hydro for the same amount needed to subsidize 1 kwh of solar. The subsidy equivalent for biomass is 6 kwh for 1 kwh of solar.

Actually, even abroad, the economics of solar and wind are being questioned. In an article on MarketWatch, where I borrowed the headline for this column today, market trader Jim Chanos famed for shorting Enron, argues that wind and solar are “not capable” of real cost-effective ways of meeting energy demands. “Wind and solar are not efficient.”

This is not to say that technologies such as Solar Photo Voltaic have no place in our energy mix at this time. The FEF paper admits solar may be the best, or the only substitute, in some areas, for expensive diesel-fired plants serving off-grid customers.

When solar or wind are used to augment off-grid diesel installations, the avoided costs (or the cost of diesel fuel that would have been used) and the avoided emissions are higher, so the required incremental subsidy is less. And no additional reserves or transmission facilities that add to our power costs are needed. In fact, solar technology is already used in a significant number of rural electrification projects all over the country….