Energy favoritism under TRAIN

* This is my column in BusinessWorld last December 19, 2017.

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The recently approved tax reform for acceleration and inclusion (TRAIN) by the Congressional Bicameral Committee exhibits a number of favoritism for some energy products and players while penalizing others. In particular, among the three fossil fuels, only petroleum products and coal received tax hike while natural gas was not mentioned and hence, not taxed.

In the VAT base expansion, expensive, unstable and intermittent renewable energy (RE) like wind-solar is again exempted (see table).

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Here are the possible implications:

  1. Since petroleum products are a public good, many goods and services will experience price hikes. Not only fares for jeepneys, buses, taxi, boats, and airplanes but also for agricultural products because most farmers now no longer use carabaos in tilling their farms, they use tractors, big and small; more farmers now also do not use human labor for harvesting rice, they use harvest + threshing combiner machines. Fishermen hardly use manual paddle boats, they use motorboats. Traders no longer use animals in transporting cargo, they use trucks.
  1. Since coal power contributes 48% of total electricity production nationwide (2016 data) despite having only 34% of total installed power capacity, electricity prices will further go up, slowly but surely. Most apologists of raising coal taxes cite the “minimal impact” on households consuming 200 kWh/month. This may be true but those households work in factories, malls and hotels, schools and universities, hospitals and residential condos, airports and seaports. These establishments consume hundreds or thousands of MWh per month, not kWh of electricity. The additional cost will be passed on to the consumers.
  1. Natural gas is also fossil fuel but it was never slapped with excise taxes. The Malampaya gas royalty is a tax on exploitation of a natural resource, the same way that the price of our imported petroleum and coal already include royalties. There is favoritism in exempting natural gas from excise tax. And there are some connections between some legislators and a known economist who pushed for high coal tax but silent on natural gas tax, with a big energy company whose main product is natural gas power generation.
  1. Exempting RE from VAT but retaining VAT for fossil fuels. These REs are enjoying favoritism three times. First, this exemption from a high 12% VAT. Second, they are given guaranteed high prices for 20 years via feed-in-tariff (FiT). Third, they are given priority or mandatory dispatch to the grid even if they are expensive. For instance, FiT for solar1 is P10+/kWh, FiT for wind1 is P9+/kWh, average coal price is P4/kWh, can go down to P1.50/kWh on off-demand hours like midnight.

Oplas-121917-768x402Soon, REs will be given a fourth privilege via the renewable portfolio standards (RPS), or minimum percentage of REs that electric cooperatives (ECs) and private distribution utilities (DUs) must purchase and distribute to households. REs then can price their electricity output high because these ECs and DUs have no choice, they will be penalized if they will not buy those expensive and intermittent REs.

Meanwhile, the DoF is often quoted as saying that “two million richest Filipino families consume 50% of oil products in the country.” This is one of the reasons why they pushed for high tax hike for oil products.

I have been intrigued by that repeated statement since last year and I am wondering what papers or studies justify this?

There are about 25 million Filipino families now. The DoF refers to the richest 2 million families, so the other 23 million middle class and poorer class Filipinos consume the other 50% of oil products.

The DoF is saying then that anytime in EDSA, NLEx, SLEx, roads in Visayas and Mindanao, etc. on average, about 50% of the cars, buses and trucks there transport the two million rich families and their goods? And that about half of domestic flights and the inter-island boat rides transport the richest two million families? This is absurd.

I think the DoF displayed dishonesty and deception in making that claim to further justify the high oil tax hikes. If such DoF claim has indeed objective basis, I am willing to apologize for this remark. For now, that statement is not backed up by solid numbers and hence, deceptive and opportunist.

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Alex Magno on FIT and renewables

Reposting an article today by Alex Magno in Philippine Star.

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A businessman-friend sent me a message the other day, railing about how the P18 billion raised through Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) charged electricity consumers could have been used to build a chain of recharging stations in the metropolitan area. Instead, as intended by our corrupt policies, FIT collections went to political cronies who claim they are saving the environment by investing in renewable energy.

With a chain of recharging stations in place, we could leapfrog the jeepney modernization program to use electric, not just Euro-4 compliant, vehicles. The technology is there. The recharging stations are not.

The environmental impact of clearing out the dirty diesel engines and putting in electric vehicles will be dramatic. The death toll from polluted air should drop remarkably.

FIT collects billions from consumers, keeping our power price regime high therefore depleting our manufacturing. In 2015, total FIT collections amounted to P10.22 billion. In 2016, with adjustments in the FIT rate, total collections ballooned to P18.54 billion. Estimated FIT collections for 2017 is placed at P24.44 billion.

Not a single peso from FIT collections goes to improvement of infrastructure. All the billions shelled out by poor electricity consumers via FIT go to offsetting business risks and ensuring profits for those who set up renewable energy facilities. The cronies who benefit from this have pulled off a massive scam by wrapping their enterprise with the cloak of political correctness.

It is not too late to scuttle this scam. We have much to learn from the experience of Australia on this matter.

As demand nears supply, Australians now realize that renewable energy is not a dependable source. It cannot provide the baseload capacity an economy needs to achieve energy security. Subsidizing renewable energy merely raises electricity prices, undercutting an economy’s ability to compete.

Renewable energy is well and good if consumers are not forced to subside them. In our case, the subsidies are better used to modernize mass transport systems.

Our backward and inefficient public transport system is, after all, the biggest contributor to the degradation of air quality in the urban centers where most of our people now live.

The cult of political correctness has misled many environmental activists otherwise acting in good faith. They ended up justifying FIT subsidies and, at the behest of cronies, demonizing coal power generation. They gloss over the fact that new technologies for coal power generation have made the iconic black smokestacks a thing of the past.

Those who make profits without assuming business risks by using FIT had the gall to demand even higher rates of subsidies from consumers. Fortunately, Energy Secretary Al Cusi has a clearer grasp of things. He rejected demands to further raise FIT rates.

More growth needs more Megawatts

Reposting an article in Manila Standard last Monday by a friend, Orly Oxales of Stratbase-ADRi.

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More growth needs more megawatts
posted May 22, 2017 at 12:01 am by  Orlando Oxales

For many Filipinos, there is something visceral about electricity. We know that it is not free, that modern life has grown dependent on it, and that any fluctuations related to its price will affect the way we budget our routine household expenses.

This is why news of the Energy Regulatory Commission’s version of “dagdag-bawas” will hit a nerve in every consumer. News of a nearly P7-billion refund of over-recoveries by Meralco was quickly negated by the announcement of a consequent rate hike, thanks to an approved increase in Feed-in-Tariff rates.

Needless to say, the two issues have generated their own share of intrigues and controversies. The refund stems from over-recoveries incurred between 2014 and 2016. Meralco officials explained that “timing issues” gave rise to such over-recoveries, as the rate used to compute for the generation charge in a current billing month is based on the generation cost incurred in the previous one. This thus creates a lag.

Meanwhile, the increase in FIT rates, ostensibly to help boost the renewable energy sector, represents what some say are “very fast adjustments” from 4.06 centavos/kWh in 2015 to 12.40 in 2016 and eventually 26 centavos in mid-2017. Critics of the initiative have hit what they describe as excessive intervention from the government, not only in price control but also in the grid prioritization of otherwise intermittent and unstable energy sources.

For many, what this does, effectively, is sacrifice consumer interest and cheaper and stable electricity for corporate interest and “saving the planet,” via guaranteed pricing, a slew of fiscal incentives, and other privileges. Because of this skewed prioritization, some even describe it as anti-consumer.

There are also reports of so-called “Meralco midnight deals” between the ERC and Meralco-affiliated generation companies that allegedly allowed some 3,551 megawatts of negotiated power supply agreements with periods of 20 years to evade a mandated competitive bidding policy. Some lawmakers have hit the delayed implementation of this rule and hinted at a collusion, something that both parties have vehemently denied.

For its part, the ERC maintained that the extension was not meant to favor any particular utility or generation company. Some industry observers say the move is to “proactively” assure sustainable power supply; distribution utilities and electronic cooperatives from across the country have planned for such by entering into supply contracts with suppliers early on in order to not only  decrease exposure from uncertainties of the wholesale electricity spot market but, more importantly, to guarantee the supply requirements of their customers.

After all, some say, an initiative that aims to replace bilateral agreements with competitive bidding will not succeed due to a serious lack of power producers that can adequately supply the country’s growing demand for power. In short, the initiative doesn’t address the problem of supply, which the Duterte administration’s build-build- build mantra will also need to confront. That necessary surge will only be possible in a healthy market environment with enough energy players.

According to some forecasts, the Philippine economy has the capacity for robust long-term economic growth of about 4.5 to 5 percent per year over the 2016 to 2030 time horizon. But this level, pace, and consistency of growth will require an additional 7,000 megawatts of power generation capacity built over the next five years.

For this to materialize, there needs to be a concrete plan to improve from mere sufficiency to a surplus of energy supply. The Department of Energy’s power development plan aims to make this a reality. Aside from the invitation of foreign investors, local players are also bullishly gearing up for this scenario. This should appease industry, at least for now.

For consumers, the DOE Task Force to Lower the Cost of Electricity in its final report has already identified the main elements contributing to the cost of power along the chain, from generation, transmission, to distribution. Their recommendations include the rationalization of taxes and the removal of bureaucratic barriers to encourage more investments in power plants.

Thus, for both industry and consumers, the issue of supply seems to be the epicenter of our persistent power woes and should guide the rethinking of our energy policies.

Ever increasing burden of FiT

I am reposting this article today in BusinessWorld by a friend, Paco Pangalangan of Stratbase-ADRi.

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Just the other day, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) announced the approval yet again of an increase in Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) rates to be collected from consumers.

Starting next month, the National Transmission Corp. (TransCo), which manages the FiT fund, will begin collecting an additional P0.0590 per kilowatt-hour in FiT rates, bringing the rate up to P0.1830 per kWh. The announced rate increase was conveniently tucked behind the news that Meralco customers would be seeing a reduction of 75 centavos per kWh as part of the distribution utility’s nearly P7-billion refund for over-recoveries. While this may cushion the blow of the increase in collections, the refund will last but three months, while the FiT rates will pretty much stay.

FiT, if you recall, was the centerpiece of the Renewable Energy (RE) Act when it was passed in 2008 (Republic Act 9513). The law, which aimed to accelerate RE development in the country, sought to incentivize RE developers by providing them with a guaranteed power rate for the electricity they produced, a long-term contract and priority connection to the grid. To fund the incentive, beginning in 2012 and until today, every electricity consumer pays a uniform FiT rate which is factored into the computation of your monthly power bill.

The allure of the guaranteed power rate over several years had developers scrambling to qualify for FiT when the first round of certifications were handed out. After two rounds, the Department of Energy (DoE) had already exceeded the target allocations for both solar and wind, and as an effect of the increased number of RE providers that were owed incentives, consumers have seen what some say are “very fast adjustments” in the FiT rates charged to them. Currently, consumers pay P0.1240 per kWh, up from just P.0406 in 2015. By the time the rate increase is introduced next month, however, the FiT rate would have increased by over 300% in under three years.

Despite the DoE exceeding the initial allocations for RE developers, and not to mention the impact of FiT rates on the monthly power bill of consumers, developers, particularly the solar developers that missed out on previous rounds, are clamoring for a third round of FiT.

Thankfully, upon taking the helm of the DoE last year, Sec. Alfonso Cusi quickly thumbed down the possibility of third round, saying that it would only add burden to consumers already paying high electricity rates.

Currently, the Philippines already has among the most expensive electricity prices, ranking third in the region, fourth in Asia Pacific and 16th worldwide. Aside from the high cost of electricity, the thinning reserves and lack of competition in the generation side of the industry remain challenges for the sector.

There is a clear need to create competition in the industry and bolster generation to meet the growing demands of our economy, but surely there must be a way to attract more investments into the power generation sector without having to dole out fiscal incentives that, in the long run, are lopsided against the consumer.

Why not revisit discussions in DoE, the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives to fast track the permitting and licensing of power projects by declaring them projects of national significance. Currently, the process of securing permits and licenses from the various national agencies and local government units remains drawn out, an issue for power developers for the longest time. All this red tape not only prolong the building of much needed power plants, the cumbersome process also wards off prospective investors as well.

Under the proposal of Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, the chairman of the committee on Energy, power projects of national significance will be given priority by compelling permit-giving government agencies to work within a specific timeframe. Furthermore, a one-stop shop for energy-related projects to cut redundancy in filing documentary requirements could also be created. A policy such as this could also become the subject of an Executive Order from Malacañang; after all, fighting red tape is also a priority of the current administration. But whether done through EO or legislation, the policy should avoid passing the burden on to consumers by creating new incentives.

This policy may not immediately translate into the development of RE as envisioned in Republic Act 9513, but with RE technology continuing to become more and more affordable, it could soon displace traditional sources as baseload generators. When this happens, consumers should be able to benefit from these developments in technology. With FiT rates this won’t happen since they will continue to pay the fixed tariff dictated by the FiT mechanism while RE developers get to hoard its benefits.

This early, the ERC, as the industry regulator, should champion the rights of consumers, review the implementation of FiT, and disallow any proposed FiT rate increase. This stand against FiT and the burden it causes on consumers can further be supported by the DoE by formally rejecting a third FiT round and by supporting Congress in crafting a policy that can spur investment on the generation side.

Francisco Paco Pangalangan Secretary-General of CitizenWatch and an Energy Fellow with the Stratbase ADR Institute.

Why the FiT-All is a burden to consumers

* This is my article in BusinessWorld today.

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Last May 15, Transmission Corp. of the Philippines (Transco) presented at the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) its petition of Feed-in-Tariff Allowance (FiT-All) for 2017 of 26 centavos/kWh. Very fast adjustments from 4.06 centavos/kWh in 2015, rose to 12.40 centavos in 2016, and soon 26 centavos starting mid-2017, all “to save the planet.”

The ERC still has to conduct public hearings in Visayas and Mindanao until early June and likely to make an order by late June, to be reflected in our monthly electricity bills starting July 2017.

The feed-in-tariff (FiT) provision in the Renewable Energy (RE) Act of 2008 (RA 9513) is very anomalous on the following grounds: (1) guaranteed price locked in for 20 years despite technology improving very fast these days, (2) the FiT rates are rising (see table below) yearly due to inflation and forex adjustments, (3) FiT rates of P8+ to P10+ per kWh for wind-solar are way high compared to current Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) average prices of P2-P3/kWh, (4) current capacity installations for wind and solar are higher than what was allotted, and (5) even consumers in Mindanao who are not part of WESM, not connected to the Luzon-Visayas grids, are paying for this.

The total forecast cost revenue of FiT-eligible plants would be (in P Billion): 10.22 in 2012-2015, 18.54 in 2016, 24.44 in 2017, and 26.14 2018. The bulk of this will go to wind and solar plants.

(a) Wind: 6.32 in 2012-2015, 8.00 in 2016, 9.20 in 2017, 9.20 in 2018.
(b) Solar: 1.50 in 2012-2015, 5.88 in 2016, 7.03 in 2017, 7.00 in 2018
(c) Biomass: 1.86 (2012-2015), 3.95 (2016), 6.69 (2017), 6.79 (2018)
Hydro is small, only 1.52 in 2017 and 3.15 in 2018.
(Source: ERC, Case No. 2016-192 RC, Docketed April 27, 2017, Table 4)

Below are the beneficiaries of expensive electricity via FiT scheme by virtue of their hugeness and higher FiT rates.

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Many renewable firms were not able to snatch the limited FiT eligibility but they can still make money from expensive electricity via the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) provision of the RE law. The RPS coerces and forces distribution utilities (DUs) like electric cooperatives and Meralco to purchase a minimum percentage of their electricity supply from these expensive renewables, the price differential with cheaper conventional sources they will pass to the consumers. If DUs will not do this, they will be penalized and the cost of penalty they will still pass on to the consumers.

fitThe government should step back from price intervention and price control, grid prioritization of intermittent and unstable energy sources via legislation. Consumer interest of cheaper and stable electricity should be higher than corporate interest of guaranteed pricing for 20 years, lots of fiscal incentives and other privileges that are marks of cronyism. RA 9513 is anti-consumers, anti-industrialization and hence, it should be abolished soon.

The quest for more stable and cheaper electricity in the ASEAN

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last April 28, 2017.

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High economic growth means high energy demand coming from stable supply and competitively priced energy, not unstable, intermittent, and expensive energy. This is what the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economies need as their high GDP growth of 4.7% in 2016 is projected to improve to 4.8% this year and 5% in 2018 (ADB data), much faster than the projected growth of other regions and economic blocs.

One week before the ASEAN 50th Summit Meeting, the 7th Annual Meeting of the Nuclear Energy Cooperation Sub-Sector Network (NEC-SSN) hosted by the Department of Energy (DoE) was held. A pre-feasibility study showed that many ASEAN countries are in favor of using nuclear energy for commercial use. The ASEAN Center for Energy (ACE) also sees nuclear energy as a long-term power source for the member-countries.

The intensive infrastructure projects of the Duterte administration require huge amount of energy. The proposed 25-km. subway in Metro Manila by the Japan government alone would require high energy supply for the dozens of trains running simultaneously below the ground plus dozens of train stations below and above ground.

Lots of base-load power plants, those that can run 24-7 all year round except when they are on scheduled shut down for maintenance, will be needed. These baseload plants include coal, natural gas, geothermal, and nuclear. Hydro plants too but only during the rainy season.

How reliable and how costly are the different power generation plants that the Philippines and other ASEAN countries will need? This table will help provide the answer as I have not seen data for the ASEAN yet.

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Power reliability is represented by plant capacity factor or actual power output relative to its installed capacity. So unstable, intermittent sources like wind and solar have low capacity factor, not good for manufacturing plants, hotels, hospitals, malls, shops, and houses that require steady electricity supply.

Power cost is represented by the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), composed of capital expenditures (capex), fixed and regular operation and maintenance (O&M), variable O&M, and transmission investment. CCS means carbon capture and sequestration.

The cost of ancillary services for intermittent sources, the standby power plants if the wind does not blow or if it rains make solar plants temporarily inutile, does not seem to be reflected in the transmission cost though.

ASEAN countries like the Philippines will need those power plants that have (a) high reliability, high capacity factor, (b) low LCOE, and (c) low or zero need for ancillary services.

However, more ASEAN countries are entertaining more solar PV and wind onshore since they were convinced to believe that they need unstable yet expensive electricity to “save the planet.”

During the Energy Policy Development Program (EPDP) lecture last April 20 at the UP School of Economics (UPSE), Ms. Melinda L. Ocampo, president of the Philippine Electricity Market Corp. (PEMC) talked about “Electricity Trading and Pricing in the Philippine WESM.” Ms. Ocampo discussed among others, the new management system where the interval for electricity dispatch has been improved from one hour to only five minutes.

I pointed during the open forum that the imposition of the lousy scheme feed-in-tariff (FiT) or more expensive electricity for favored renewables was unleashed even to consumers in Mindanao, which is not part of WESM, and is not connected to the Luzon-Visayas grids. The FiT-Allowance that is reflected in our monthly electricity bill has risen from 4 centavos/kWh in 2015 to 12.40 centavos in 2016 and this year, we should brace for at least 26 centavos/kWh soon because the 23 centavos petition by Transco starting January 2017 has not been acted by the Energy Regulatory Commission yet.

The issue of stable and affordable energy will be tackled in the forthcoming BusinessWorld Economic Forum this May 19, 2017 at Shangri-La BGC. Session 4 “Fuelling Future Growth”of the conference will have the following speakers: John Eric T. Francia, president & CEO of Ayala Corp. (AC) Energy Holdings, Inc.; Antonio R. Moraza, president & COO of Aboitiz Power Corporation; Josephine Gotianun Yap, president of Filinvest Development Corp., and DoE Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi. Yap and Cusi are still to confirm the invite.

Local energy players will have a big role in ensuring that the Philippines should have stable and competitively priced energy supply today and tomorrow.

Five myths of solar-wind energy

* This is my article in BusinessWorld on March 20, 2017

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Variable renewable energy (RE) like wind and solar are far out from giving humanity sufficient, stable, and cheap electricity to sustain growth and fight poverty. For the simple reasons that they are very intermittent and expensive. Below are five of the common myths that we hear and read about wind and solar.

  1. Solar, wind, biomass, and other REs will replace fossil fuels as major global energy sources in the near future.

Wrong. From the projections by the two of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, these REs, which may also include geothermal, will produce only 8.5% of global energy demand (Exxon Mobil data) or 6% (British Petroleum data) by 2025.

  1. The share of coal, gas, and nuclear will further decline as the world moves towards implementing the Paris Agreement of 2015.

Wrong. From both EM and BP projections, there is no let up in global use and demand for fossil fuel and nuclear sources in the near future. This is for the simple reason that people anywhere dislike power interruption even for one minute, much more frequent and involuntary outages lasting many hours, daily or weekly.

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  1. Solar and wind are cheaper than coal now, their overall costs will keep falling.

Wrong. The feed-in-tariff (FiT) rates or guaranteed price for 20 years for solar-wind keep rising, not declining. For first group of solar entrants, their FiT rates in Pesos/kWh were 9.68 in 2015, 9.91 in 2016, and 10.26 in 2017. For second group of solar entrants, their FiT rates were 8.69 in 2016 and 8.89 in 2017.

For wind power first group of entrants, their FiT rates in Pesos/kWh were 8.53 in 2015, 8.90, in 2016 and 9.19 in 2017. For second group of wind entrants, their FiT rates were 7.40 in 2016 and 7.72 in 2017. Only the sun and wind are free but the panels, switchyards, cables, wind turbines, towers, access roads, etc. are not.

Current power prices in Mindanao are only around P2.80/kwh as many new huge coal plants compete with each other along with hydro and geothermal plants. No additional charges.

  1. Solar and wind have no social cost (SC) while the SC of coal is very high.

Wrong. Solar and wind are very land-intensive and, as a result, more areas for food, commercial, and forest production are diverted to accommodate more solar and wind farms. To have 1 MW of installed solar power, one will need about 1.5 hectare of land. So to have a 300 MW solar plant, one will need about 450 hectares of land; San Miguel power has a 300-MW coal plant in Mindanao sitting on only 30 hectares of land, or hectare/MW ratio of only 0.1 for coal vs. 1.5 for solar.

Since solar has a low capacity factor, only 18% of its installed capacity — from 450 hectares of land with installed power of 300 MW — can actually produce only around 54 MW.

Majestic solar, 66.3 MW in CEZA, Rosario, Cavite is not included here because it is a rooftop facility and hence, does not occupy extra land area.

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution and emission from coal power plants will further warm the planet.

Wrong. CO2 is not a pollutant or evil gas. It is a useful gas, the gas that we humans and our animals exhale, the gas that our rice, corn, flowers, trees and other plants use to produce their own food via photosynthesis. More CO2 means more plant growth, more food production, more trees regenerating naturally, which have cooling effect on land surface.

The above five myths were among the topics discussed during the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) “Roundtable on Philippine Energy Security and Competitiveness” last Friday, March 17 at UPSE in Diliman, Quezon City. The main speaker was Dr. Majah Ravago of UPSE and EPDP and she presented the main EPDP paper, Filipino 2040 Energy. The five reactors included Jose “Viking” Logarta of the ICSC and Dr. Christoph Menke of Trier University of Applied Sciences in Germany. Dr. Menke discussed the GIZ paper criticizing the EPDP paper.

201703201e1b5Governments should not create regulations that distort the energy market away from real competition. Insisting on dishonest claims like “carbon pollution” and “renewables to save the planet” only lead to more expensive and unstable energy supply, wasteful use of land and other natural resources.