[X] "Agrobiodiversity and Monoculture Homogenization in Agri/Culture" (UP Forum, 2011). [X] "The Fight for Education as Dress Rehearsal" (UP Forum, 2011). [X] "Community Sterilization and the Cataclysm" (UP Forum, 2012). [X] "Pamana at Pagkalinga ng mga Inang Makabayan" (UP Forum, 2012). [X] "Beyond the Bark: Reexamining our Roots" (UP Forum, 2012). [X] "Enabling Law Disabling 'Small Dictatorships'" (UP Forum, 2013). [X] "Power Switch: Reconsidering Renewable Energy" (UP Forum, 2013). "Fortun, Forensics and the Yolanda Aftermath: Recovery, Storage, System Restore, Repeat" (UP Forum, 2014). "General Education at Globalisasyon: Isip, Salita at Gawa Para Kanino?" (UP Forum, 2014)
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Power Switch: Reconsidering Renewable Energy
“Gravely disappointed” with Benigno Aquino III’s echoing of “antiquated arguments that the coal industry uses to slam renewable energy (RE),” Greenpeace has urged the president to “change his tune, ditch his outdated fossil fuel playbook.”
During his State of the Nation Address, Aquino said that REs are “more expensive—from the cost of building the plants to the eventual price of energy.” According to the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) desk study “RE in the Philippines: Costly or Competitive,” fossil fuels cost more compared with RE in terms of its impact on health and the environment.
Less expensive than fossil fuels, “some RE technologies like hydro and geothermal” are already broadly competitive. But “strong political commitment and policy support mechanisms” may prevent the use of “other RE resources [that] still encounter economic barriers.”
Among the policies that have paved the way for RE are the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001 and, the RE Act of 2008. In an interview with UP Forum, Ferdinand Larona, GIZ senior adviser for RE, said that EPIRA’s goal is “to ensure energy supply security and provide reasonable power rates to both the investors in the power industry and the electricity consumers.” According to Larona, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), “a purely independent body performing the combined quasi-judicial, quasi-legislative and administrative functions in the electric industry,” regulates rates and services. Moreover, “the electricity unbundling,” a reform EPIRA introduced, aims “to make the customers of distribution utilities (DUs) understand how much they would be paying for generation, transmission, distribution and other benefits or charges.”
However, according to IBON Foundation’s assessment of EPIRA , EPIRA “has allowed for the deregulation of electricity prices” and ERC “has been reduced to a mere approving agency for electricity rates.” After EPIRA, a select few powerful companies and families, most “believed to be close business allies of past and current administrations,” monopolize the power industry. Thus EPIRA “articulated how the government will rely primarily on the profit-seeking private sector, including foreign investors, for the country’s electricity needs.” The National Power Corporation (NPC) “owned or controlled some 90 percent of the country’s generating capacity before privatization.” ALECO in Albay is about to suffer the same fate.
Let us reconsider the implications of GIZ’s claim that REs “already dominate investments in the electricity sector.” According to Larona, any “RE resource that will be developed will be first enjoyed by the Filipinos because it will be fed through our grid or, in case of solar roof-top installations, will be used directly by the homeowner. The RE development companies are also required to be 60 percent owned by Filipinos.” With the RE Act that “aims to accelerate the exploration and development of the country’s RE resources by providing fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to private sector investors and equipment manufacturers / suppliers” (Larona 2013), shifting from “dirty” to “clean” energy appears to primarily benefit profit-motivated developers, enjoying an initial seven-year income tax holiday and duty-free importation of machinery, among other rewards.
By providing green jobs with the Department of Energy (DOE) formulating guidelines as regards job safety, RE developers shall also relish good publicity; while other industries going “green” will also benefit from RE technologies not just as austerity measures, but also as good public relations, in line with the so-called “corporate social responsibility.”
Larona added that “before DOE gives final approval for an RE project to be ready for commercial development, the developer has to secure permits/approval from host communities” like “environmental compliance certificates and for projects located in indigenous people’s (IP) areas, a Free and Prior Inform Consent (FPIC).” Recently, the DOE issued “guidelines in the selection and awarding of certificates.” Track records show that aforesaid permits seemingly legalize multinational mining companies’ environmental plunder and IP displacement; the potency of applying supposed checks-and-balances to RE development remains to be seen.
Shifting to RE reduces import-dependence and increases self-sufficiency, which “will not totally substitute imported coal and oil—especially for transport—but will contribute to energy security—the country will be less affected by world events e.g. trouble in middle east which can result in spike in oil price and constricted supply),” according to Larona. He added that “the country has very limited oil, gas and coal resources, but we have relatively good RE potential which should be developed.” But it must be noted that the Oil Deregulation Law gives oil cartels limitless “democracy” to rationalize price hikes,” in the same way that the Mining Act, EPIRA and RE Act, in effect, tolerate monopolies of respective industries they “regulate.” Also, IBON held the view regarding our country’s RE potentials, but noted that we have “an estimated 138 million barrels in proven oil reserves and 3.48 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.” Thus, the crisis of skyrocketing prices of energy, whether “clean” or “dirty,” apparently lies in ownership and control of the power industry—the conflicting interests between public service and corporate profit.
RE in GREEN
Commissioner Heherson T. Alvarez of the Climate Change Commission (CCC) said that the Aquino-led CCC is “drafting a ‘Sustainable Energy Roadmap’ designed to shift the country’s fuel system and increase RE by 100-percent capacity in response” to the government’s “2011 National Renewable Energy Program” meant “to encourage low-carbon development.” This ‘sustainability’ effort is reminiscent of
+ 20 Conference where the world’s advanced capitalist nations, according to
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment’s (PNE) National Coordinator Clemente
Bautista, try “to save face after 20 years of global ecological destruction and
socio-economic crisis under the banner of sustainable development.”
The push for ‘green economy’ puts “a price on ecological services, resources and knowledge—paving the road for the financialization of nature,” said Kalikasan party-list Secretary-General Frances Quimpo. The shift to ‘clean energy’ is part of what Quimpo called “green-washing on a global scale,” with the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing the finances. Moreover, “in the ensuing decade,” WB that ironically “monitors global environmental measures” also “invested more than fifteen times as much in fossil-fuel projects” as in RE. British Petroleum employed the same strategy of salvaging its public image by shifting to solar, after breaking “ranks with the oil industrial complex in 1997 declaring that man-made climate change was indeed a threat.”
Having “diluted the whole progressive concept of sustainable development,” greening of economy poses two problems, according to IBON: (1) aiming “for growth rather than social welfare and people’s needs;” and (2) ignoring “the current consumption pattern as a subset of the current growth pattern.” This, in effect implies that “the goal of [this] growth will eventually only require more resources, more sinks, more waste,” contrary to the supposed function of economy “to fulfill human needs and to advance human well-being.”
According to Prof. Lenore dela Cruz of the UP
College of Social Work and Community Development
(CSWCD), shifting to RE is a question of scale during the advent of large-scale
globalization, when the belief that ‘the bigger the scale, the more efficient’
is not always the case. She posed the question that if we opt to “think
globally, act and operate locally,” on what scale are we willing to operate,
with regard to RE?
CSWCD Prof. Elmer Ferrer added that between big-scale projects and the ones at the human-level scale, breakdowns in the former are more difficult to control. Solar energy, for instance, said Ferrer, may be used for small machines like radios to reduce consumerism; while community-based RE systems, added CSWCD Prof. Matt Wamil, may be used by off-grid communities for purposes that they themselves determine.
Wamil said that IPs utilize RE for lighting up the community and for post-harvest activities—and not for watching TV or for surfing the internet. According to Wamil, decentralized RE systems work well, but massive ones pose dangers. For example, once a commercial tidal plant in Occidental Mindoro operates to supply power to MIMAROPA, the micro-system of energy generation in
Mindoro will be
disrupted. Moreover, a significant portion of shares in commercial power plants
are owned by foreign investors—such is the case in mining, and other major
industries. Dela Cruz said that local investors shall be tapped so that they
may be held responsible, unlike foreign companies who may withdraw stocks and run
off, once problems arise.
Aquino may be correct in saying that RE “cannot provide the base load—the capacity required to make sure brownouts do not occur.”According to Richard Smith, scientists skeptic about RE’s base load potential “have called for a radical shift to nuclear power as the only way to get 24/7 powerin the near future.” Due to health hazards among many other risks, going nuclear shall not be an option to solve the overproduction problem that in turn demands more energy generation. Smith suggests moderation, i.e. imposing “non-market limits on electricity production and consumption, enforce radical conservation,rationing, and stop making all the unnecessary gadgets that demand endless supplies of power.” Simply put, Gandhi advises living “simply so others may simply live.”