Palawan, touted as the Philippines’ final ecological frontier, may lose its status as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve if the proposed construction of a coal-fired power plant pushes through in the province.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Palawan as a Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1990, classifying the province as a “site of excellence where new and optimal practices to manage nature and human activities are tested and demonstrated.”
The UN body is currently reassessing Palawan’s special status. However, the plan to put up a coal plant threatens the viability of the title.
“The question is not whether Palawan should develop. The question is how it should develop. Business as usual will no longer cut it. We need to mainstream next practices. Fifty year old formulas, such as fossil fuel dependence, will fall by the wayside,” says Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, Vice-chair and CEO of the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Philippines).
“If we do not want to find ourselves latching on to old-school technology, we need to break away from centralized grid-dependence, and balance our energy mix. The key is to seize our power, and spread the risk,” he adds.
The current proposed coal-fired power plant in the province is facing stiff, on-the-ground opposition from local communities, such as members of civil society and the academe.
On Monday, 30 September, Western Philippines University students organized a march to protest the proposed coal plant in the municipality of Aborlan in Palawan. Doctor Lita Sopsop, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the Western Philippines University, estimated the number of people who participated at 1,500, composed of members from the academe, civil society and locals in Aborlan.
Dr. Sopsop, who took up a doctorate in Environmental Science at UP Los Banos, said that the WPU’s mandate is clean energy, with the WPU declared as an Affiliated Non-Conventional Energy Center (ANEC) of the Department of Energy in Palawan.
“We oppose the coal plant because of the negative impacts to health and the environment, particularly to locally declared fish sanctuaries in the area. Hanapbuhay ng mga tao dun ang fishing. The discharge of waste water from the coal plant will cause thermal pollution that is hazardous to the marine ecosystem, especially coral reefs.”
The coal plant had originally been intended to be put up in the municipality of Narra but faced such strong local opposition that the developer was unable to garner the local LGU endorsement it needed to continue with the project and had to transfer the proposed site to the municipality of Aborlan.
The price of electricity for the proposed coal power plant has also been questioned by local Palawan NGOs as the price will be much higher than indigenous, cleaner renewable energy projects. The proposed coal plant will sell electricity at a rate of Php 9.38/kwh. With VAT, that rate would rise to Php 10.51/kwh. A hydropower project being proposed in the province will produce electricity at a rate of Php 6.59/kwh – much lower than the fossil fuel power plant.
“Why should Palawan buy more expensive, dirty power when we have cleaner, cheaper alternatives available? It is also important to note that it is not just Palawan that will pay for this expensive electricity but the whole country as well due to the subsidy that NPC-SPUG (National Power Corporation – Small Power Utilities Group) areas receive from the national government. Palawan could be helping the country save money rather than wasting it.” Said Atty. Gerthie Mayo-Anda, Executive Director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) and convener of the Palawan Alliance for Clean Energy (PACE)
WWF-Philippines, with the support of the WWF global network, will be highlighting the plight of Palawan to the globe through the Seize Your Power Campaign.
“Seize Your Power is about calling for our financial institutions and governments to divest from dirty fossil fuel investments and to invest more in cleaner, renewable energy solutions. This is the clear case with Palawan, which has numerous renewable energy resources available, such as hydro, biomass, wind and solar,” says WWF-Philippines Climate Change and Energy Programme Head Atty. Angela Ibay.
The current pending hydropower projects in the region could save the Philippines an estimated Php 750 million pesos a year from fossil fuel costs and mitigate about 26,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Renewable energy projects also generate a greater number of jobs per MW compared to fossil fuel plants.
“The criticisms put forth by some people against hydro technology are simply not true. They are oversimplifying it, saying it will not be reliable due to the unpredictability of rivers. Actually, energy engineers conduct exhaustive studies to find out how much reliable, dependable capacity hydro projects can churn out and that is the supply taken into account. This means that the proposed supply agreement should always give out at least that much energy, barring any catastrophic change in the environment,” added WWF-Philippines Climate Change and Energy Communications Officer Christopher Ng.
Palawan has long been considered the last frontier of the environment in the Philippines. It also holds two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, namely the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park and the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Palawan is also one of the country’s most popular tourism hotspots.
“To build a coal plant in a place all Filipinos have worked so hard to conserve for so many years, when cheaper, cleaner alternatives are available, especially with the looming threat of climate change, is just a travesty,” concludes Tan.
For more information, please contact:
Atty. Angela Consuelo Ibay
Director, Climate Change and Energy Programme
Mr. Christopher Ng
Communications Officer, Climate Change and Energy Programme
Mr. Gregg Yan