Gov’t blinks: No to coal power in Bohol

In 2017, over 200 families in a community located near fuel and coal-fired power plants in Limay, Bataan were reportedly told to leave their homes after they complained of health problems, including skin and respiratory diseases. Various environmental groups also called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to stop the plant from discharging ash.|Photo: GMA News

Amidst mounting public pressure, the provincial government changed its stand regarding the entry of a coal power plant to be based in Bohol.

In a meeting convened by Gov. Edgar Chatto last Holy Tuesday, the provincial leadership speaking through the Bohol Energy Development Advisory Group (BEDAG) made categorical its stand as “No to Coal.”

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This came contrary to an earlier move of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan allowing coal power proponents to be among the 52 power applicants which will be included in the bidding process in search of a solution to the impending power shortage in the province. 

Earlier, it was clearly stated and defended by the provincial governor that in order to maintain “due process,” every applicant should be given a chance to present and be included in the bidding process. This, despite earlier opposition from the cross-section of the community.

In an earlier meeting, Gov. Chatto was quoted as saying that he does not want to be blamed by the power consumers in the event electric rates are increased that much mainly because coal-powered plant applicants (deemed less costly) were disqualified from the bidding process. 

The provincial government earlier maintained that the presence of the coal proponents could be taken as the basis once the cost factor will be deliberated. 

During last Tuesday’s meeting, BEDAG said “We stand firm against the establishment of any coal power plant in the Province of Bohol.”  

The statement “reassured” the Boholanos that “the BEDAG and the entire Provincial Government of Bohol are fully intent on maintaining the sanctity and pristine condition of the environment.”

This is while the province aggressively pursues its energy development projects to ensure sustainable and reliable power supply over the long term and farther beyond.

The BEDAG unanimously adopted the policy in a consultative meeting with the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), headed by Acting Vice Gov. Venzencio Arcamo, at the Governor’s Mansion on Wednesday.

A “final and definitive declaration,” the BEDAG policy statement will be institutionalized in a provincial ordinance.  

A press release from the provincial Capitol and its power advisory group claimed that they have been consistent in their respect for the environment to balance progress.

This is even if the energy industry sector itself repeatedly asserted that, under the prevailing condition, only coal can yet provide resilient electricity at the least cost. 

Earlier, the provincial government, thru an SP ordinance, declared “environmental impact” as the “most important” consideration in pursuing Bohol’s aggressive energy development program.

Electric cost efficiency and supply reliability are the two other major categories to determine the power generation technologies and facilities that will be allowed in the province. 

Since BEDAG’s start, Chatto has consistently insisted to include environmental friendliness, not just cost and reliability, in addressing Bohol’s power concern now and beyond. 

The BEDAG “no-to-any-coal-power-plant” policy came while the power distribution utilities (DUs) said they could not guarantee dropping the coal users from the list of power project proponents in the screening.

The DUs explained their points and reiterated their mandate under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) Law during the same SP-BEDAG meeting.

Still, the BEDAG resolved that despite the national mandate regulating the power industry, the “Boholanos will never live to see the establishment of facilities that will destroy our environment.”

“We have come to the agreement that, if the DUs cannot guarantee a 100% environmentally-safe technology with the four-stage screening policy set by the SP, then declaring this ‘No to any coal power plant in Bohol’ policy is the only viable option,” the BEDAG said.

Provincial Board Member Tomas Abapo, Jr. said in a radio interview that with BEDAG’s no-coal policy which the SP will institutionalize by way of an ordinance, the proponents of the coal power plant are now considered “out.”

Abapo said that after last Tuesday’s meeting, the power developers who use coal technology can no longer participate in the selection process or bidding, which will be conducted by the DUs.  

In the SP measure, approved last March 16, declaring environmental impact as the most important criteria, the province also set the “four stages of the selection process” for the interested power developers.

These phases involve the “pre-qualification of the proponents; financial capacity and cost of power to the consumers; reliability of power supply to Bohol; and, most importantly, environmentally-safe technology.”

The selection phases were agreed even if the environment was given the highest consideration in the same ordinance.

The SP precisely approved the four-stage screening to allow all interested power developers to compete and offer lower cost of electricity.

However, this is with the assurance that the technologies unfriendly to the environment, like using coal, will be eliminated at the selection level where environment counts most.

But since the DUs cannot guarantee dropping the coal proponents from the list in the screening, the last resort is to categorically declare the no-coal policy, which the BEDAG did indeed in consultation with the SP.

‘HIGH’ COMPETITION

The DUs cautioned that with the policy, the cost of power will now be solely determined by the price competition among the “high-cost” power sources, as coal is excluded, in the competitive selection process (CSP) or bidding.

The bidding will be conducted by the DUs—the Boheco I and II and Bohol Light Company, Inc.—as a One Bohol Power (1BP) entity, which is another BEDAG initiative.

Under the 1BP, the three DUs will negotiate as one in an aggregate power purchase agreement with their common supplier or consortium of suppliers, who will also build their power facilities in Bohol.

Before the BEDAG, the DUs were guided only by the EPIRA which, thus, then led the DUs to use power cost as the only basis for their competitive selection process.

With BEDAG’s intervention, however, the Terms of Reference (TOR) document of 1BP was modified to set screening levels with three major criteria—cost, reliability, and environment.

The last level is envisioned to eliminate environmentally-unsound power generation technologies such as the use of coal. 

PAY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Should power cost be a little higher because coal is dropped, it would be an added cost due to environment and health considerations that the Boholano consumers have to pay for.

The BEDAG honestly made it clear that “should there be any increase in the cost of power” after the selection process, it would “not solely be due to generation cost but also to the need to pay for a clean and safe environment.”

In this case, an information and education campaign must be conducted to let the people clearly understand, the BEDAG said.

The BEDAG and SP are hopeful that the price ceiling of coal technology can still be matched by competitive price offers from the proponents of renewable energy or other sources even if coal is excluded.

In Congress, before it adjourned for a recess, Rep. Aris Aumentado proposed to prohibit from his area, the Second District, any coal power plant.

Environmentalists and other anti-coal sectors considered the bill a support to the pro-environment energy development program of the province.

While the no-coal policy of the province and BEDAG effectively prohibits a coal power plant anywhere in Bohol, the congressman’s bill only limits to his district, however.

Also, the ordinance of the province does not only declare the three major criteria, with environment given the most essential, and the four stages of the selection process.

The capitol, thru the same ordinance, at the same time “requires” the three DUs to follow the screening criteria and phases.

CORRECT STATEMENT

A circulated fake information tagged the governor as supposedly saying that the province is not involved in the power development project selection issue. 

The truth, according to Capitol and BEDAG, is that the province has seriously engaged itself in the power sector decisions through the BEDAG, which Chatto himself created in an executive order.

This is unlike before when only the DUs would decide without the provincial government and the people involved or being made aware of the process.

“Our brand of open governance requires that we consult all stakeholders before making any major policy decision that will have a long-term impact on our beloved Boholanos,” the BEDAG said. 

Some SP and BEDAG members said the issue has precisely been talked about because the provincial government and BEDAG policy is to encourage all stakeholders to participate and be informed.

“This issue is not just a matter of exerting strong political will, but about discussing scientific issues, exploring the pros and cons in detail, and balancing the interests of multiple stakeholders,” Chatto said, directly quoting the BEDAG policy statement.

Pursuant to the EPIRA Law, the final competitive selection process is the sole responsibility of the DUs.

But the BEDAG led by the governor raised the key point that the policy of the province putting premium to the environment must be respected by the DUs.

The BEDAG acknowledged the many perspectives on the available power technologies, “and we had to listen” to arrive at such a policy statement pursuant to “open governance and shared leadership.”

A Capitol press release said “Open governance means allowing people participation to be part of public policy discussion.  It means strong political will among those who inspire the people to engage with the government.  After all, no one has a monopoly of good ideas.” (with a report from Ven rebo Arigo)



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