Putting The Cart Before The Horse

(Conclusion)

By Donald Borja Sevilla

Thus far we have seen how the power sector is structured in our province. But for all our leadership’s best intentions, a body, BEDAG ( Bohol Energy Development Advisory Group) was created to handle the power issue and deal with potential investors.Yet despite its creation, we haven’t seen significant progress made.

While we had pointed out the obstacles that stand in the way of a swift realization of our dream of generating our own power, we must realize that nothing can happen unless the key players come together and cooperate.

The local leadership must act to be the driving force to get everyone to work for the public good.And this means wielding the political will to go against specific interests or big business.But are they prepared to do so?

Are our leaders keen on protecting the public interest more than their own or that of big business, potential election benefactors?

ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF ENERGY

If indeed we are serious to cut off power dependence from Leyte sources we can explore these alternatives:

  1. SOLAR – With vast areas of land undeveloped we can establish solar farms to meet our needs.Although solar technology has significantly improved over time in terms of cost and design, yet still it is a pretty big investment that industry figures estimate to run approximately at US$ 1.2M for every megawatt of power produced. Including the cost of storage through batteries the figures could rise. Hence the price per kilowatt of electricity will cost more compared to cheaper, other alternative sources. But solar is clean and green and could very well fit our image as an ecofriendly tourist paradise.

However since government is keen on promoting this type of resource it has established a subsidy through the FIT(Feed in Tariff) mechanism wherein the power produced through solar energy is guaranteed a certain rate when fed to the grid to encourage investment. While the FIT rates decrease yearly, last we knew was around P9.20/kilowatt, plans are afoot to scrap it altogether.But the problem also is, at this rate it is not attractive to market directly to power distributors who can get power at a lower cost.

  1. WIND – While power can be produced through wind driven turbines that are a sight to behold with their gigantic blades, Bohol is not along the “wind highway” of the Philippines.Although it only takes a minimal but consistent wind velocity to drive these turbines we are not situated in a favorable path geographically. Another drawback for this mode of power is also its gargantuan cost.Although this technology has improved tremendously over the years it still is quite expensive to build and maintain.

3.HYDROPOWER – Our province is abundant with water resources.And while we do have an edge in this department, building large dams to generate electricity is quite a challenge.Imagine the hundreds of hectares of land that will eventually be submerged underwater and the social preparation that goes with it, relocation of affected residents and providing alternative sources of livelihood to name a few.The bigger the desired generating capacity, the bigger the area needed.

Although deemed the cheapest among the sources of “green” energy in terms of maintenance and production cost, the construction of the dam and related facilities may take sometime to build.In our case we could start off with a series of mini or micro dams that produce a few megawatts of power as well as tap the existing irrigation dams using newly developed technologies rather than a huge,massive hydropower plant. Even the aborted Cantakoy Hydropower project was only good for about 5-7MW.

 

  1. BIOMASS-POWERED PLANT – Another alternative form of power is that derived using biomass as fuel instead of the traditional bunker or diesel. Here waste residue from plants as in bagasse or other organic plant material is utilized to fuel the engines that drive the generators. As we have no large plantations in our province to support this type of operation, it is a tall order.Compared to other places where they have vast tracts of sugarcane plantations that can provide biofuel or other plant based material in volume, an operation of this sort is not feasible to us.

Because of the above-mentioned limitations we only see a few working models on a large scale and magnitude.Therefore this type of operation cannot be relied upon as a viable alternativeto support our needs.

5.COAL-FIRED PLANT – While admittedly it is the easiest and most convenient to build, it is not the most environment-friendly. Using fossil fuels has long been frowned upon by environmentalists and climate change advocates.Although proponents now claim they can provide “clean” coal, this is subject to a lot of debate.The pollution that goes with coal-fired plants is evident in its smoke emissions and ash wastes.Yet as beggars cannot be choosers, the need to address problems in the short term overshadows the disastrous effects later. However, in as much as we are promoting ourselves to be a great tourism destination, a coal-fired plant would be contradicting our efforts and could adversely affect our pristine beaches.Let us always remember we cannot have it all somehow, somethings may suffer as a consequence.

6.BIO-GAS / NATURAL GAS-FIRED PLANTS – Biogas or methane produced from animal wastes are in limited supply and as such if available can only support the generation of minimal power output.We need to tap the wastes of a large pig farm for instance to be able to set up one.In our province, only Marcela Farms of the Alturas Group has this capability, which they have utilized perhaps for their own use.

Similarly, we do not have access to natural gas resources that could be used to fire up boilers that emit steam which drive turbines to produce electricity.

6.GEOTHERMAL POWER – A cheap source of power which unfortunately we do not have as we have no volcanoes or hot springs. Natural vents of steam coming underground from the earth’s crust may be abundant in other places and has been our main source of power but from afar.This explains why because of the strong quake that shook Leyte where our geothermal plants are located and which have been affected we suffer as a result.

7.DIESEL- FIRED PLANTS – Power plants that use diesel/bunker or any similar fuel have been our conventional sources of power for a long time but are generally expensive to maintain and run specially during the time when the price of oil surged in the world market.Although world market prices of oil have dropped significantly now dependence on fossil fuels is highly discouraged to mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change.

Above we have mentioned a few options open to pursue in order to be self-reliant in power.But considering our limitations and the actual conditions on the ground it seems we have our hands tied to a few choices.Yet whatever may be made available to us and catches the eye of investors we must work speedily to see that it materializes soon. We cannot afford to footdrag as our needs grow steadily. Things must be fast-tracked and streamlined without much interference from bureaucratic red tape.

DEFINING OUR CHOICES

How do we move to achieve our goals and make effective our local govt’s role towards attaining self-sufficiency in power? While long overdue, BEDAG is a step in the right direction.

Yet it is not enough.It takes more than planning and meetings to make things happen.

A strong political will is needed to “persuade” existing stakeholders to start the ball rolling and live up to their mandate by providing the “best” service to its consumers.

As pointed out, nobody else is in the best position to help mitigate the impact of a looming power crisis in our shores. We have already explored the different alternative sources of energy open to us.The ball is now already in their hands. Why?

Because the dynamics of the power sector in our province as structured is analogous to the “chicken and egg” phenomenon.Who should start things first? Remember that power distribution is a monopoly.At the end of the day, whatever output the power plants produce is subject to the distributor taking it. The power generators produce, the distributors buy, but at what price?

It is important then that there be PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements),power supply contracts that guarantee purchase at an agreed price. Bottomline is it also boils down to pricing.At what price are distributors willing to buy and the plants able to produce? Because without it, power generators are at the mercy of the distributors specially so that they are new entrants to the status quo.

Therefore a wholistic approach is a must. Our leaders representing the interests of our people must act as  “referees” to bring these vested interests together to work for the common good. This is why it is important that “profit” should not only be the motivation that drives a working relationship because our people will eventually suffer. As utilities are part of our basic needs now and as these entities are providing a “basic service” sometimes sacrifices have to be made.This is why in most other countries the utilities sector is state-owned to protect the people’s interest.

BOHECO, if truly a “coop”, must live up to its mandate as a cooperative for the benefit of its members.To truly serve the people’s interest, awash with resources it must take the lead to bring innovative solutions to promote “power independence” in our province. They can partner,forge alliances with potential investors to realize this dream. Without it we will always be victims of the “chicken and egg” syndrome.

Perhaps this may help explain why up to now we have no serious entrants in the power sector. We had industry players who had looked into and explored investment possibilities here, but nothing happened. Why? But then again we must move fast to keep up with the growing demands of our population and business.

Unless we do we will be plunged back into darkness.

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