Coal Still to Dominate Power Mix in PH

Coal Still to Dominate Power Mix in PH

Despite increases in investments in renewable energy, coal is still expected to dominate the power mix in the Philippines in the next one or two decades.

Since the enactment of the Renewable Energy Act of 2008, new renewable capacities (wind, solar, biomass, and hydro) have significantly increased from 34 MW (2008) to 813 MW (2015).

However, over-all renewable energy growth has been outpaced by the increase in coal power plant capacity, according to Richard B. Tantoco, president and chief operating officer of the Energy Development Corporation, the largest player in geothermal energy in the country, in a presentation made for him at Silliman University recently.

For example, the power generating share for renewable energy fell from 34% in 2008 to only 25% in 2015. On the other hand, non-renewable sources grew from 66% in 2008 to 75% in 2015.

Tantoco said that if nothing is done to reverse this trend, coal will still dominate the power capacity mix in this country by 70% in 2030.

And if all the planned coal plants in the Philippines become operational, there will be no more room for new technologies to come in.

In 2015, there were 17 old coal plants in the country, 25 new coal plants, and 71 new contracts for the construction of the same, approved under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared his administration would continue to tap coal as a primary source of energy because it is cheaper. He dismissed the call to cut down carbon emissions as “hypocritical,” as the rich countries, he said, were the biggest carbon polluters.  

But operating the planned additional coal-powered plants in the Philippines would mean a steep increase in carbon emissions by 141% from 2016 to 2030, said the EDC executive.

Cost-wise, opting for coal will only be artificially lower, at 35 centavos per kilowatt hour–artificially, he said, because coal plants have “hidden costs” in terms of damage to the environment and people’s health.

When this hidden cost is accounted for, the actual cost of coal is 9.4 to 26.9 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour.

On the other hand, solar and wind energy costs only 1.3 to 1.9 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour in terms of “integration cost of intermittent renewable energy.”

Coal-fired power plants expose people to toxic particles and heavy metals, according to health experts.  These are emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dust and soot, and heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium and cadmium.  

These microscopic particles, also so-called  Particulate Matter (PM 10 or less) with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less (human hair is about 70 micrometers), are emitted into the air, inhaled by people, and penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream, causing  deaths and a wide range of serious diseases such as stroke, heart attack, asthma, lung cancer, diseases of the central nervous system, and for children, lower birth weight, impaired fetal growth, lower IQ development, and premature birth.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia reported that premature deaths from PM 2.5  globally in 2010 was 3.2 million—including 160,000 in all of Southeast Asia, and 8,200 in the Philippines.

In the United States the toll from coal in 2010 was reported at 13,200 deaths; 20,000 heart attacks and 100 billion dollars in health care expenses.

Meanwhile, many countries are moving away from carbon. 25% of Europe is done with coal (Belgium, Malta, Cyprus, Luxembourg, the Baltics). Britain and Austria are phasing out coal in 2025 and Portugal in 2030.  U.S.A. has retired carbon plants by more than 100GW and cancelled more than 20GW of new coal plants in the pipeline. And China will shut down the last coal power plant in Beijing this year, said the EDC official. – Celia E. Acedo, SU Research and Environmental News Service