Renewables ‘real solution’ to high power rates, climate woes: bishop

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza is calling on government leaders in Negros Island and surrounding provinces, national policymakers and energy authorities to turn to the development of renewable energy in the country as a readily available and genuine solution to high power costs burdening Filipinos.

Alminaza’s call for action was made during a House Committee on Energy (COE) hearing held Friday, October 29, which sought to tackle the increase in electricity rates of electric cooperatives in Negros and Iloilo in light of the damaged submarine cable of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) connecting Cebu to Negros and Panay, and the consequence of purchasing electricity from the Wholesale Electricity Market (WESM).

“We support the several recommendations for the urgent repair of the submarine cable and for the hastened development of smart grids, battery storage, and microgrids to further augment energy supply in the province and unlock the potential of renewable energy (RE),” he said.

Any undue delay, such as NGCP’s supposed worst-case scenario of completing repairs only by November 2023, should not be allowed, the bishop said.

“In fact, we suggest that increases in electricity rates due to delays should be charged to the NGCP, who is mandated to ensure that transmission facilities are in optimal condition, and not to innocent consumers, who are already burdened by this long-drawn pandemic”, Alminaza said.

Alminaza, who also serves as a convenor of a broad CSO, youth, church, and consumer-led coalition called REpower Negros, said that issues tackled at the COE hearings so far are, however, but symptoms of larger ailments plaguing the provinces’ and the country’s power sector.

Lamenting continued dependence on fossil fuels in the country, Alminaza said that “even though the Negros Island has been dubbed as the renewable energy hopespot of the Philippines because 95 percent of the installed capacity of power plants in Negros comes from RE, 73-80 percent of the contracted capacity mix of the Island comes from fossil fuels. In other words, Negrosanons are not benefitting from the cheap electricity being generated by its own RE power plants. What a shame it is to be called the renewable energy hopespot and yet be burdened by expensive fossil fuel electricity rates.”

Poor power procurement rules and practices are also a problem, with rules and practices allowing for automatic pass-through of fuel costs and foreign exchange fluctuations, he said.

“Amidst a global energy crunch where coal, oil, and gas, us consumers are forced to pay for the all-time high costs of the imported fossil fuels these dirty power companies are burning. As long as fossil fuel players are allowed to pass these costs to consumers, these power biddings cannot be truly called ‘technology neutral’ but rather, ‘fossil fuel-based,'” the bishop added.

In contrast, RE players are barely provided incentives to win power auctions, Alminaza noted, and electricity consumers demanding for cheap and clean energy are not given the opportunity to decide.

“We experienced this ourselves in CENECO’s most recent 20 MW competitive selection process, where the Department of Energy and CENECO awarded the power supply agreement to a coal plant instead of a hydro or geothermal power plant,” he said.

“This is despite several protests on our end, claiming that the paltry 2 centavo/kWh difference in bids, should tip the scale in favor of the RE bidder considering all the negative externalities and fluctuations that come from coal electricity. This experience highlights the importance of adopting a multi-criteria evaluation in power procurement, which considers GHG emissions, pollution, health impacts, and even local development,” he added.

Echoing warnings from fellow clean energy and climate advocates and experts, Alminaza said we should expect electricity rates to continue to rise and Filipinos to experience worse climate crisis impacts as long as the country does not have an ambitious energy transition plan and allows another fossil fuel – natural gas – to occupy a large share of the power mix moving forward.

“The real solution is clear–a switch and just transition to affordable, reliable, and sustainable renewable energy through better power procurement practices and a comprehensive and transformative energy transition plan. This we should do not only for the electricity consumers, but also for the less fortunate burdened by these costs, for the next generations who will lose the most in a climate catastrophic future, and for our common home,” Alminaza said.*

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