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Gov’t stance on coal deemed unclear

Despite DOE chief’s moratorium on new projects
/ 05:10 AM December 31, 2020

More than two months after the Department of Energy (DOE) announced a moratorium on new coal-fired projects, the government has yet to spell out this new policy that environment advocates have welcomed.Meanwhile, private firms are firming up commitments to ditch coal eventually, but the same environmentalists profess the same impatience on the slowness of divestment as they feel about the government’s unclear if not unfirm stance.

“We already have a draft policy and this is still being studied,” Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi told reporters earlier this month.

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At this point, Cusi can only make clear that the DOE will no longer accept new proposals for coal projects.

He cannot yet provide details about whether or not projects that have yet to be built, but have secured then needed permits and endorsements would be allowed to push through—and if yes, which ones.

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After maintaining for several years that the DOE is “technology neutral,”—meaning that it would neither favor nor suppress any power generation resource such as coal—the energy chief made waves last October when he announced the coal moratorium during an international forum held in Singapore.

Earlier in December, an international coalition of 18 nongovernment organizations (NGOs) released a report which showed that a pipeline of planned coal-fired power plants in the Philippines was considered to be among 12 initiatives worldwide that have the worst impact across the globe in terms of degrading the environment.

The 18 allied NGOs include the Quezon City-based Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) blame financial institutions that are mostly based in the United States for making these “fossil (fuel) mega-projects” possible.

“In recent years, the Philippines has turned into a ‘carbon bomb,’ with 13,800 megawatts of new coal (fired power plants) waiting to be added to its already installed capacity of 9,800 MW,” CEED executive director Gerry Arances said in an accompanying statement.

It is this same pipeline of 13,800 MW of coal projects that CEED and its allies want the DOE to stop, with clarity and firmness.

But, as energy officials said, this matter was still being studied. In the meantime, the DOE lauded the application—submitted in the same month the moratorium was announced—of state-firm PNOC Exploration Corp. for a service contract to look for and develop coal resources at two exploration blocks in Malangas, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Cusi, who sits as PNOC Chair, said exploiting the country’s coal resources would help in the recovery of the Philippine economy, which was in recession due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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At the same time, groups like the Ayalas and the Aboitizes tout their respective progress in investing in renewable energy rather than coal.

“With regard to our long-term plans, while we have not seen the guidelines of the moratorium, we support the views expressed by [Secretary Alfonso Cusi]. It’s a step in the right direction,” AboitizPower president and chief executive Emmanuel Rubio said last November.

“We are … seeing increasing cost in insurance (and are) having difficulties in getting financing for coal-fired plants,” Rubio said. “That is why, as we have mentioned before, we are not going to do any greenfield coal plants moving forward.”

The Ayala group, through AC Energy Philippines, expects to be “coal-free” earlier than the goal of 2030.

Still, a Coal Divestment Scorecard issued by a coalition of environment advocates dubbed Withdraw from Coal (WFC), said the Ayala group, through its banking arm, was the biggest financier of high-carbon emitting coal projects in the Philippines, even if it was also known for avowed efforts to divest from coal.

Released earlier this month, the Scorecard shows that the Ayala’s Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Banco De Oro (BDO) and Philippine National Bank (PNB) were the top three local banks in terms of exposure to coal by way of loans and underwriting that they provide.

According to WFC, BPI has an equivalent of about $3.48 billion in coal exposure, BDO has $2.52 million, and PNB has $1.6 billion.

In the meantime, WFC lauded Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) for a recent announcement that RCBC would no longer be financing coal.

“If [banks] will not choose to phase out these activities, our future and that of generations to come are placed in greater peril,” Bishop Gerry Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos, coconvenor of WFC, said in a statement. “With this in mind, (WFC) continues to urge Philippine banks to have policies and timelines to phase out coal in their work,” Alminaza said.

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TAGS: coal-fired projects, Department of Energy (DOE)
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