After a series of consultative meetings with energy stakeholders, the public, and provincial leaders, authorities and clean environment advocates here have forged a unified stand against the establishment of a land-based coal power plant in Bohol as embodied in a consolidated policy statement and strengthened through an SP ordinance.
The decision came after weighing all the pros and cons of not allowing the entry of coal power plant, which is considered the cheapest in terms of cost and most reliable, but is reportedly destructive to environment and hazardous to human health.
The province’s energy advisory group headed by Gov. Edgar M.Chatto is most concrete and tougherin its stand against power generation within Bohol island using the environmentally-risky coal.
“We stand firm against the establishment of any coal power plant in the Province of Bohol,” said the Bohol Energy Development Advisory Group (BEDAG), which chairman is the governor, in a policy statement.
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 SangguniangPanlalawigan (SP), headed by Acting Vice Gov. VenzencioArcamo, at the Governor’s Mansion on Wednesday.
A “final and definitive declaration,” the BEDAG policy statement will be institutionalized in a provincial ordinance.
Capitol and its power advisory group have been consistent in their respect for 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 lest 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 insistedto 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 about after the power distribution utilities (DUs) saidthey 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 resolvedthat 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 coal power plant are now considered “out.”
Abapo said 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 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.
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
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 (be ) solely 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. ArisAumentado proposed to prohibit from his area, the Second District, any coal power plant.
He filed his bill after the provincial government, thru the SP ordinance, declared the environmental impact as the most important category, alongside cost and reliability, in carrying out Bohol’s abundant, sustainable and resilient power thrust.
Environmentalists and other anti-coal sectors considered the bill a support to the pro-environment energy development program of the province.
Whilethe 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 essence, 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.
A circulated wrong 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 governorraised 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.”
“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,” the BEDAG said. (VenreboArigo)