The future of coal-fired power plants

Another significant concern that has not been documented well includes the credibility of the consultations done by CFPP operators with host communities. There have been allegations of companies deceiving people about the nature of the power plants and local government officials getting bribed in exchange of their approval of the CFPP operations. These are again, anecdotal and it would necessitate a thorough, independent investigation to assess if host communities have sincerely given their consent to the operation of CFPPs in their areas.

Access and disclosure of information on the payment and use of compensation funds from the companies such as electricity, development and livelihood funds as well as reforestation, watershed management, health or environment funds must also be improved.

Policies on energy security in the country are more skewed in favor of energy supply and distribution and only consider the sector’s health and social impacts as externalities.  The main concern is to meet the demand, but there is no conscientious assessment of how a certain energy option could affect the other aspects of development. This shows the need for further interagency coordination between DOE, DENR, Department of Health and the National Economic Development Authority.

The Electric Power Industry Reform Act has called for “environment-friendly, indigenous and low-cost sources of energy” but the preference has been geared towards the “low-cost” consideration because the consequences on health and social aspects have not been thoroughly determined and measured for the longest time.

The government has to address this especially as it has submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change where it said that it would reduce its GHG emissions by 70 percent given international assistance and has also committed to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  

Continue the conversation

The next batch of leaders and lawmakers should map a policy direction that pushes for the compatibility of energy objectives with those of our commitments to improve also the health and environmental sectors – and this necessitates moving away from the predominant bias of Philippine energy policy towards “technology neutrality.” Furthermore, the new generation of leaders should meaningfully engage industry as partners in the shift towards a truly competitive energy sector that is not only driven by cost alone but by clear priorities towards facilitating energy security in service of sustainable development.

We also recommend that a gold standard be adopted in the assessment, approval and evaluation of CFPP proposals and operations.  A life cycle assessment of the coal value chain is essential to informing this gold standard as well as the conduct of cost and benefit analysis and scientific validation of health and environmental impacts.

There are alternatives to coal and this is evidenced by the pace in which new technologies are being developed to be more “flexible” to serve as baseload energy sources including renewables, but their utilization would require leveling the playing field of energy planning in the immediate future. The role of coal must be capped in the energy mix and an enabling environment must be provided to electrify the private sector in exploring other cleaner and greener energy sources for the mid-merit and peaking needs, while also potentially supporting baseload power needs.

The energy – no pun intended - from the stakeholders that attended our policy forum on coal on Nov. 24 showed a need to continue the conversation on coal.  Some government and nongovernment actors shared their current efforts on developing a more strategic and comprehensive assessment of the environmental, health and social costs of coal. There is also a resounding call to internalize these costs so that the private sector and the government will be more guided on its energy planning and investment decisions.

Let's have a rigorous dialogue on coal and let’s keep it going so that we could finally strike the balance we are aiming for in achieving sustainable development. –

Dean Antonio G.M. La Vina has served as the dean of the Ateneo School of Government since 2006. He has previously served as an undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and also worked at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. He has published numerous local and international studies on climate change and the environment.

Lawrence Ang is a public-private partnership specialist focused on facilitating cross-sector collaborations towards developing and accelerating sustainability solutions in emerging economies.