06 February 2015

SBMA to resume talks with consortium for Subic coal-fired power plant

Negotiations between the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and RP Energy for a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant will resume soon after the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the environmental compliance certificate issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the Aboitiz-led consortium.

However, local government officials and an independent group of Subic Freeport locators vowed to press their opposition to the coal-fired plant despite the ruling of the high court, which also denied a petition for a writ of kalikasan against the power plant’s construction.

SBMA Chairman Roberto V. Garcia said they had been locked in negotiations with RP Energy -- the consortium of Aboitiz Power, the Manila Electric Co. and Taiwan Cogeneration Corp. -- when they were forced to stop by the petition for the writ of kalikasan.

The first issue, said Garcia, is the lease rate.

“Under the original lease agreement, the rental was for only P1 million per year. During our last negotiations, we were able to raise that to P200 million per year,” Garcia said.

The second issue was about which environmental standard to adopt in constructing the power plant.

“Because of (the need to protect) tourism, the SBMA board’s sentiment was that we should adopt higher air quality standards, which is the World Health Organization standard,” the SBMA chair explained. “Meralco’s position, on the other hand, was only to meet the Philippine standard, just like what is being imposed on other power plants.”

“Third, there were previous MOUs (memorandums of understanding) that were signed before involving local government,” he said. “Now, under the lease agreement, these rights were distinguished. In fact they did not have rights in the first place because there were only MOUs. That is the third point that we are discussing.”

“Now that the SC has finally decided on the issue, we will now continue discussions on these issues.”

However, the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber for Health and Environment Conservation, a group of locators, believes the fight against the coal-fired power plant is not yet over.

“The reversal of the validity of documents is not to say that the SC Justices favor coal as a fuel,” the SBFCHEC said in a statement.

“We believe that the coal is a dying fuel. It is on its way out of the world stage. We believe it will be banned by the world within 10 years, and it is foolish for RP Energy, Inc. to build something that will soon be banned by the world. It is foolish for the Philippines to allow such investments,” SBFCHEC president Gregorio Magdaraog stressed.

“Two hundred years ago, coal gained prominence during the industrial revolution and has become the basis of development. But since only few coal plants were established then, the plants did little in destroying the environment,” Magdaraog explained.

“Over the years, other energy options were discovered. But the American capitalists have already heavily invested in coal and related industries. The less than one percent who owns the world also owns coal so they are bound to protect coal, despite the existence of other energy generation options. That is the political economics of the coal industry. But sooner or later, they will junk coal, but they will sell coal first,” he added.

Magdaraog predicted that, “in ten years, we will almost be independent from Meralco for power supply because of other options like solar power.”

“If that is so, why should we embrace coal?” he asked. (Ansbert B. Joaquin, InterAksyon.com)