PH won’t achieve energy self-sufficiency with fossil fuel dependence, must spur transition to renewables

Sustainable development think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) on Thursday raised the specter of a Philippines highly dependent on foreign sources for its energy supply and suffering from the severe effects of climate change if trends of the past decade continue, and vouched for the capacity of recent developments and emerging policies to turn the tide in favor of renewable energy.

CEED discussed the scenarios in a webinar entitled, The Decade in Review: Expanding Coal, Lagging Renewables, and Rising Fossil Gas, which was conducted over Zoom and broadcast on Facebook Live and included the participation of Dean Tony La Viña, a former Undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Most Rev. Gerardo Alminaza, Bishop of the Diocese of San Carlos, and Naderev Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“The Philippines is consistently placed on the list of countries most vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, but it continues to expand its use of coal and other fossil fuels. It is increasing the use of coal to produce electricity while neglecting renewable energy despite laws which say otherwise,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of CEED and one of the presenters in the webinar.

Arances said that in the past decade, 16 new coal plants and one new unit of an existing plant started commercial operations despite the devastation caused by more frequent and more intense typhoons experienced by the country in the same period. Since mostly imported coal and fossil fuels’ share in the country’s primary energy supply increased from 58% in 2010 to 67% in 2018, self-sufficiency decreased from 60% to 50% in the same period. Still, at least 12 GW of new coal power and 26 new projects are still in the national pipeline.

“Nevertheless, there is a silver lining, an opportunity for the Philippines to reverse the trend. Recent policy and legal developments in the energy sector may arrest the expansion of coal and fossil fuels in the country. With an accompanying increase in renewable energy investments, we will be able to increase our energy self-sufficiency and decrease our vulnerability to the effects of climate change,” said Arances.

CEED cited the increase of carbon taxes, the denial of seven coal power supply agreements worth 3.5GW of coal energy, a suit before the Supreme Court on the DENR’s regulation of coal power plants, the enforcement of the Renewable Energy Law, and the Green Energy Tariff Program of the Department of Energy.

“Still, the challenge remains in actual implementation. President Rodrigo Duterte himself directly instructed Energy Secretary Al Cusi to prioritize renewable energy in the 2019 State of the Nation Address, but the DOE did not immediately move to comply with the President’s directive,” said Arances.

The green energy advocate drew hope from the spate of viral posts extolling the clean air of Metro Manila during the quarantine to galvanize the population into pressuring the government to adopt renewable energy over polluting fossil fuels as soon as possible.

“Salus populi suprema lex esto – The welfare of the people should be the highest law. And if the people themselves demand clean air, affordable energy, and sustainable development from the government and demand action now, then the government will have no choice but to obey,” said Arances.