Monday, June 7, 2010

FASTLANES: Renewables, best solution to Mindanao power crisis (2)

By BenCyrus G. Ellorin
(Last of two parts)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/05 June) – Sound management of the power industry starts with good medium and long-term planning.

Short term solutions are expensive economically, socially and environmentally.

Many argue that the construction cost per megawatt ratio of dirty coal and expensive oil-fed generators is lower compared to renewable energy, but in the long term these non-renewables are still more expensive on two counts: 1) The cost of producing power for coal and oil is very expensive as it is dependent on the upward movement of the fossil fuel prices in the world market; and 2) burning fossil fuel drives global warming and climate change, aside from it noxious pollution. A 2003 study by the European Commission revealed that the external cost of using coal as fuel is four times the profits reflected in the balance sheets of coal plant owners.

They concluded that for every dollar of profit, society is left to pay an equivalent of U$4 in terms of cost of damage brought by global warming, health risks due to pollution, soil degradation due to pollution, acid rain, among others.

These realities should encourage our power planners and stakeholders in the energy sector to look for cleaner and cheaper sources of power.

Engr. Cerael Donggay, President and CEO of Greenergy Devt. Corporation said that quick fixes in the power industry is costly to the consumers and the environment.

“The twin evils of short term non-renewable energy solutions are high cost of power and environmental damage like global warming,” said Donggay who is one of the founders of Northwind. Northwind owns the country’s first wind energy farm in Ilocos Norte.

The brown outs due to supposed power shortage in Mindanao this year has underscored the need for the power industry to get it act together, albeit not in a business as usual setting.

Pushing for renewable sources of energy should be done in earnest now and there should no longer be any pussy footing on pipeline hydro electric projects like the132-megawatt run-off the river Bulanog-Batang hydro electric power plant in Besigan, Cagayan de Oro and Talakag, Bukidnon. Another hydro electric project that needs urgent pushing is the 300-megawatt Pulangi 5 hydro electric power plant in southern Bukidnon and North Cotabato.

The Bulanog-Batang project already has an investor, the Fortune 500 listed American Engineering Services, while the Pulangi 5 hydro electric project is now in the social preparation phase.

As of this year, technically, Mindanao still does not have shortage of power generating capacity, at least on paper.

Data from the Dept. of Energy indicate that the island still has generation reserve of about 7%. At this level though, the power situation of the island is very vulnerable to external factors like the El Nino phenomenon which brought draughts. Ideally, the reserve power to be dependable is pegged at 13-15% of the peak demand.

Despite the warnings in 2009 of an El Nino episode this year, the National Power Corporation which owns and manages the Agus and Pulangi hydro electric plants wasted the water reserves, the renewable fuel of hydro power plants, by releasing what they thought was excess water from Lake Lanao.

This is something that CEPALCO vice president Engr. Dave Tauli behemently protests as very irresponsible. It is tantamount actually to economic sabotage.

The contribution of hydro electric power in the Mindanao grid has reduced sharply in the last 20 years, from 95% to its current contribution of about 20%.

This has resulted in high power costs in the island as the increased dependence on global warming fossil fuels exposed our electricity bills to the skyrocketing prices of oil in the world market. The worse was in 2008 when crude oil prices spiked to U$147 per barrel. It had since then settled to U$70-80/ barrel, but still way above the U$40/barrel in 2004.

Coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, although cheaper than its liquid counterparts is no better as its price behaviour is largely influenced by the crude prices. From U$40-50 per ton in 2007, it breached the U$100 mark at the height of the oil price crises in 2008.

The renewable energy potentials of Mindanao is enourmous and there is no reason to rush on proposed dirty coal-fired power plants like the one pushed in Saranggani province.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has listed 98 potential sites for small hydro electric power plants in Mindanao with a total capacity of 826-megawatts. Wind energy is not far behind with 47 potential sites in Mindanao with potential generation capacity of 336-megawatts. Solar energy has demonstrated its viability in the 1-megawatt photovoltaic power plant owned by a CEPALCO subsidiary in Indahag, this city.

You add the potential renewable energy sources with pipeline projects like the Bulanog-Batang and Pulangi 5 hydro electric plants, and we are actually seeing a potential addition of 1,500 megawatts of power for Mindanao in the medium term.

This is more than the forecasted power generation requirement of 2,600 megawatts by 2014. The current capacity of the Mindanao power generation plants is about 1,900 megawatts. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Comments can be sent to

*Published on Mindanews, Sunday, June 6, 2010.

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