A historical announcement took place this week when the Department of Energy (DOE), Govt of the Philippines declared a moratorium on endorsements for greenfield coal power plants.
Philippines Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi announced that the agency’s most recent assessment revealed the need for the country to shift to a more flexible power supply mix. He also added that “this would help build a more sustainable power system that will be resilient in the face of structural changes in demand and will be flexible enough to accommodate the entry of new, cleaner, and indigenous technological innovations”.
Dr. Rene Ofroneo, President of Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) said that they welcome this reaffirmation by the DOE as part of the country’s commitment to scale up the development of renewables such as geothermal energy and downsizing national energy reliance on GHG-emitting coal plants but asked: “Why can’t the DOE be more explicit and firmer in making the foregoing policy declaration? For example why not a ban on permits for new coal plants instead of a “moratorium”? And why not spell out to the nation the schedule in the phasing out existing coal plants, as what many countries are now doing?”
The same sentiment was echoed by Lidy Nacpil, the coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD), “a moratorium is temporary, it can be revoked or lifted anytime, so this new coal moratorium is effective only until the next baseload capacity additions are needed.”
Ian Rivera, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) called the moratorium “climate blind” because what is needed now is an energy plan that is in sync with the climate targets outlined in the Paris Agreement.
CSOs are also alarmed by the announcement that the Philippines is now allowing 100% foreign ownership in large-scale geothermal exploration, development, and utilization projects. Large-scale geothermal projects are those with an initial investment cost of about USD 50 million capitalizations through Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAAs).
“While we commend this milestone decision of a coal moratorium announced by the DOE, the state announcement to allow geothermal projects to push through as 100% foreign-owned through FTAAs needs an immediate callback,” says Rayyan Hassan, executive director of NGO Forum on ADB.
Hassan explained that in the mining sector of the Philippines FTAAs have been notorious for exploiting people and the environment, “the 1995 Philippine Mining Act allows FTAA for large-scale mining to transnational corporations (TNCs) as well multinational corporations (MNCs) to put up capital and technology in favor of acquiring mining leases for up to 25 years for 100,000 hectares of mining land. The later amended FTAAs allows 100% ownership by MNCs, tax holidays, remittance of earnings, freedom from requisition of investment, confidentiality, auxiliary mining rights for water, land, timber, etc. right to possess explosives, entry into private lands and concession areas. The above-mentioned incentives were all in favor of the MNCs with hardly any protection of local community rights, livelihoods, and environments”.
This was supported by Dr. Ofroneo saying that the declaration is surprising because it implies that only foreign companies have the knowledge and expertise to develop geothermal energy. This is false.
Dr. Ofroneo added that what the DOE should have done is to declare that foreign companies engaged in geothermal development are welcome so long as they will abide by the country’s laws on foreign investments, forest preservation, and protection of the rights of indigenous people and the host communities. “Better, the DOE should have announced a national program tapping the talents and expertise of Filipino geothermal engineers, technicians, and scientists in the development of this industry. “ he ended.
According to Zeena Maglinong, secretary-general of Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), we are energized by the recent pronouncement of DOE, but while they are at it, we hope that our energies together with communities that are heavily affected by the impacts of these coal projects can be further renewed by pushing DOE to cover more energy projects including that of their indicative plans”.
It is also worth noting that the ban on endorsing new coal-fired power plants will not affect those that were already given prior endorsements. Gerry Arances, executive director of Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) thinks that the DOE should not stop here, “If it is to make up for the years it stood by its so-called ‘technology-neutral’ policy, it has to follow up with phase-out plans for the currently installed 12GW coal plants in the country, without this, the suffering of coal-affected communities, soaring electricity prices and fossil fuel pollution would continue to proliferate.”
Maglinong also pointed out that if the remaining coal projects that are already in the pipeline are still being implemented, then the future projected carbon emissions will still be heavily impacting the Philippines’ contribution to the climate crisis.
Anti-incineration groups are also wary of DOE’s endorsement of waste-to-energy incineration as a form of indigenous and renewable energy resource just as they argued in the Senate Energy Committee during the deliberations on the WTE bill. As stated by Glenn Ymata of No Burn Pilipinas “energy generation through waste incineration is like coal combustion that produces significant greenhouse gas emissions plus toxic and poisonous fumes like dioxins and furans.”
The group also made mention of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), according to Maglinong the network is banking on the ADB and AIIB to follow suit and make true to their commitments in divesting from coal plant projects, “we are banking on both of the Banks to push further by committing to divest from ALL coal projects, including indicative plans in the pipeline and instead put the money on community-centered energy renewable projects as grants and NOT loans”.
Hassan warns that while coal is dying globally and the Philippines is embarking on a transition, it has to be mindful that it is being driven by environmental and social responsibility. If similar FTAAs are approved for geothermal and other forms of baseload energy projects such as dams and WTE, the country may be opening up to a pathway of severe exploitation of precious resources and threatening ecological hotspots, and indigenous and traditional communities.