Small Victories

 

eucommision

The EU agreed to increase RE share to 32% by 2030. Photo c/o https://www.finchannel.com

There are many small victories to celebrate among renewable energy advocates.

Last June, the European Commission, Parliament and Council agreed to increase renewable power use in the region to 32 percent by 2030, up from the previous goal of 27 percent.

Aside from setting this target, the agreement also included removal of barriers to entry of renewable energy small players as well as a review of the 32 percent goal in 2023.

The new goal was set so that the region can meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, below 1990 levels by 2030 as part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement of keeping global warming below 2 degrees. “This deal is a hard-won victory in our efforts to unlock the true potential of Europe’s clean energy transition,” EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete was quoted.

And there is more good news from this region since Sweden is set to achieve its renewable energy targets 12 years ahead of the deadline.

The Nordic nation is likely to reach its 2030 renewable energy target of generating 18 terawatt-hours annually from renewables by the end of the year according to the Swedish Wind Energy Association (SWEA). This feat will be possible, thanks to the aggressive installation of wind turbines since some 3,681 wind turbines will be operational across the country by year-end.

Europe is not the only one that brought good news. Japan also recently announced its plans of boosting renewable energy use by 2030 by 22 to 24 percent. Currently, the country sources 15 percent of its energy demand from renewable sources.

Unfortunately, the Philippines did not make a similar announcement and instead opted to push down our goal of sourcing 35 percent of overall power needs from RE by 2030 to 2040.

But this is not to say that we lack good news in renewable energy front or that Filipinos entirely lack appreciation for renewable energy. After all, several local government units (LGUs) have declared their support for cleaner forms of power.

For example, last June, the city council of Ozamiz revoked an earlier resolution endorsing the proposal to build a 300-megawatt coal-fired plant and instead adopted a new one to look for prospective investors for renewable energy in the city.

The same case happened in Bohol last March where its local government prevented the building of new coal power plants since “the entire Provincial Government of Bohol are fully intent on maintaining the sanctity and pristine condition of the environment.”

Eventually, the LGU of Bohol passed an ordinance against the establishment of coal power plants in the province on April 6, joining the ranks of Guimaras and Ilocos Norte, which had already banned coal and shifted to renewable energy.

Yes, our national government may be slow in realizing the value of renewable power, unlike other nations like the European countries and Japan but at least our provinces know the worth of going renewables. Maybe soon, more Filipinos including government officials will realize what renewable power can do for our country and that, as Guimaras Governor Samuel Gumarin said in a speech, “a sustainable-development path, powered by renewable energy, is not only possible but more viable.”

References:

https://www.rappler.com/nation/203386-bohol-no-coal-ordinance-epira-greenpeace

https://climatereality.ph/climate-reality-ph-lauds-ozamiz-city-climate-action-819/

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/japan-aims-for-24–renewable-energy-but-keeps-nuclear-central-10495024

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jun/14/eu-raises-renewable-energy-targets-to-32-by-2030

Sweden to reach its 2030 renewable energy target this year

Survey Says

The majority of Filipinos are dissatisfied with current power prices according to a survey by Pulse Asia.

Last August, the research firm released its report revealing that around 60 percent of Filipinos are dissatisfied with the power rates. “With the exception of Mindanao, at least half of adults in the main geographic areas are dissatisfied with the price of their electricity,” Pulse Asia said.

The survey also showed that a significant majority of Filipinos or 82 percent are in favor of “having a new option for electric service provider or electric utility.” In the National Capital Region (NCR), 88 percent of adult Filipinos expressed openness to having new electric service providers. Plus, 89 percent of Filipinos also favor renewable energy.

The survey results are a testament to the growing dissatisfaction of Filipinos on our high power rates. They are also aware that there is a need for more competition in our energy sector even in the distribution segment to cut the cost of electricity. Competition, after all, will always drive down market prices. And it is not surprising that the vast majority of the survey participant for NCR is open for more distributors as the monopoly of a company in any business will never be beneficial for consumers.

Unfortunately, the passage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) did little to invite competition in the markets in the distribution side as we focused more on having more players in the generation business.

But there are steps our regulators can take to generate more players in the distribution of power. For one, we can break away from the current practice of disallowing a new distribution entity to enter the market where one DU is in place. Such practice fails to promote competition and instead allows for a monopoly to flourish.

Aside from allowing other power players to enter an already franchised service area, our regulators should also consider lifting the cap for the Retail Competition and Open Access (RCOA).

Currently, the rule says that only those with a monthly peak demand of 750 kilowatts or higher can be considered contestable customers and can choose their preferred service providers. In my opinion, this rule should be revised as anyone regardless of their power consumption should be given the option to decide where to source their power.

We have to keep in mind that contestable customers get to save on their energy bills than the captive customers or those who are required to source from their distribution utilities or electric cooperatives. In a column in BusinessWorld, President of Minimal Government Thinkers, Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. President of Minimal Government Thinkers notes that contestable customers on average only pay Php 9.61 per kilowatt hours (kWh) considerably lower than the captive customers who pay roughly Php 7.78 kWh.

Our government then should work on giving choices to the majority of the Filipinos by allowing them to choose their power generator or distributor rather than force them to stay with their current ones. Naturally, aside from lifting the restriction on RCOA, there is also a need to make the infrastructure and resources available to pave the way for this scenario where customers have the freedom to choose their energy type, generator, and even distributor.

DU competition

Technology will soon render the traditional distribution system obsolete according to experts. Photo c/o https://m.dailyhunt.in

We have to make these changes if we do not want to be left behind. Let us keep in mind that the technological advancements will soon render the traditional distribution system obsolete as asserted by many experts. For example, David Cane, former CEO of NRG Energy believes that the existing utility system will become irrelevant in the near future since many advanced countries are moving towards decentralized homegrown energy where home automation be of great importance. He argues that “When we think of who our competitors or partners will be, it will be the Googles, Comcasts, AT&Ts who are already inside the meter.”

Indeed, we need to create an environment that can accommodate these technologies, so we can benefit from having more options as well as cheaper power prices to consumers.

Having choices is one of the best ways to promote competition and hence lower down the power costs in the country. However, major changes are needed that require a lot of willpower. It is time for our regulators to put the interest of the Filipino consumers above anything else.

References:

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/08/21/1844441/filipinos-not-satisfied-high-power-rates-poll

https://www.bworldonline.com/electricity-competition-epira-and-wesm/

We Only Have 12 Years

drought-global-warming

The world only has 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe. Photo c/o https://www.independent.co.uk

The United Nation (UN) has released a strong and urgent warning: The world only has 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe. And God willing, I will only be 72 by then. My first grandson will only be 12. So, the warning is very personal to me, as it should be to you.

This warning came from the world’s leading climate scientists with the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a result of years of research from the 6,000 scientific studies assessed. The goal of the study was to gather all available scientific literature and make recommendations to help governments in their effort to combat climate change as well as support economic development.

According to the study, the world only has a dozen of years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 °C and going beyond even by half a degree will mean worsening the risks of floods, droughts, extreme heat and poverty for all of us.

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” Panmao Zhai, one of the Co-Chairs of IPCC Working Group said.

The report stresses that many climate change impacts can be avoided if the world’s global warming is limited to 1.5°C instead of 2°C as committed in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

For example, the global sea level rise is likely to be 10 cm lower by 2100 if global warming is 1.5°C instead of 2°C. Similarly, around 99 percent of coral reefs would be lost with 2°C while only 70 to 90 percent decline at 1.5°C. Plus, at 2C, the Arctic will be iceless during summer at least once per decade instead of once per century.

The impact on the world will be significant especially for the already vulnerable countries if global warming is not limited to the recommended temperature. The rise of the sea level will force hundreds of millions out of their homes while crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America will enormously diminish.

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, one of the co-chairs of the IPCC Working Group pointed out.

This is a gloomy warning and the most urgent call for drastic changes that are based on the most comprehensive data analysis.

There is still hope, according to the scientists, but swift actions must be made.

“The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5ºC are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” Valerie Masson-Delmotte, one of the co-chairs of the study stressed.

Drastic steps needed include lowering the global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide carbon dioxide (CO2), which would need to fall by about 45 percent by 2030 from the 2010 levels. By 2050, it should be around ‘net zero’.

So, what do we need to do to cut our CO2?

The study says, one of the ways of cutting CO2 emissions swiftly is to lessen our fossil fuel consumption, the primary producer of greenhouse gasses. Renewable energy sources should dominate the energy mix at 85 percent share of power needs by 2050 if we are to limit our CO2 emissions.

This is not the first time that we have been warned about the harm of failing to act swiftly on global warming. There have been a lot in the last few years except this warning from the UN is based on the most comprehensive study of scientific data.

Indeed, the time to act fast is now. And we can start in our backyard. The Philippines, after all, is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change according to Moody’s. And it does not help that we are not doing much to help the world reduce its CO2 emissions.

The Philippines can heed the call to cut down on greenhouse emissions by diversifying more into renewable energy. We are after all blessed with natural resources to make a transition. It is the lack of political will that prevents us from doing so.

We only need to take a look at how slow the country’s transition to cleaner forms of energy. Our numbers do not show much improvement. For example, on a year-on-year growth, the Philippines coal import volume increased by 16% from 2015 to 2016 and the growth of installed capacities of coal-fired plants climbed by 87% from 2005 to 2016. There’s another 10,423 MW is in the pipeline.

May this warning from scientists serve as a wake-up call to all of us, particularly those who are in charge of making the shift to clean energy possible. Our government only needs to keep in mind that failure to act now is not helping the Filipinos and the rest of the world.

References:

https://www.bworldonline.com/philippines-rated-among-most-vulnerable-to-climate-change-in-new-moodys-ranking/

Press Relese: Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC approved by governments
http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/session48/pr_181008_P48_spm_en.pdf

Moving Forward: Introducing Competition in Power Distribution

Around the globe, significant changes are taking place in the power sector, particularly in the distribution of energy given the advances in technology. Many countries are gearing up to take advantage of new technologies to help reduce the cost of power, among other reasons.

For example, the European Union (EU) is paving the way for its electricity system to be more efficient by encouraging consumers to use intermittent renewables at different times of the day to save on power and lower their electricity bills. At this time, the EU is working on policies to make it possible.

Those who use more power during off-peak demand or when renewable energy technologies are running on their peak will be given incentives also known as the dynamic pricing scheme.

Other European countries like Spain and Nordic states are already implementing the dynamic pricing. In the long run, EU envisions that customers’ appliances such as washing machines or dryers will run automatically during the day when the sun is shining at its brightest or during windy days. This dynamic pricing scheme is expected to save as much each household an estimated average of €400 annually with the help, of course, of smart meters and smart grids.

Some may be doubtful of EU’s vision and label it as too ambitious. But EU’s goal is achievable. After all, breaking away from the traditional model of the distribution of having power stations at one end with the customers on the other end of the supply chain is long overdue.

Consumers now should have the option of selecting their preferred kind of energy, source, and even meters. This is possible except our tolerance for monopoly has limited the choices available to us consumers, a point stressed by several experts.

For example, Nobel Prize awardee Vernon Smith, who as early in the 1980s, argued that deregulation of the electricity market is possible if there is competition for generation, transmission and even distribution.

In his paper, Currents of Competition in Electricity Markets, he stressed that “Competition is now evident on the fringes of power generation, and a foundation is in place for deregulating not only generation but possibly transmission and distribution as well.”

The economics professor pointed out that regulators have encouraged monopoly in electricity markets rather than implement rules that promote competition: “ An examination of the electric power industry as it exists today reveals a tremendous untapped potential for the development of competitive markets. Regulation has been applied far too broadly to the electric power industry. As a result, policies intended to restrain monopoly power have instead propagated that power.”

smart meters 2

Smart meters in Europe. Changes in the consumption and provision of electricity driven by emerging technologies are taking place and making way for more options in power consumption. Photo c/o http://www.nec-display-solutions.com

A recent paper, Utility of the Future by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), discusses how changes in the consumption and provision of electricity driven by emerging technologies are taking place and making way for more options in power consumption.

One of the goals of the research is to identify inefficient barriers to the integration of cost-effective new sources of electricity services to help create a level playing field for the provision and consumption of power services.

One of the recommendations of the study is that “the structure of the electricity industry should be carefully re-evaluated to minimize conflict. It is critical to establish a level playing field for the competitive provision of electricity services by traditional generators, network providers, and distributed energy resources.”

The study further stressed that it is essential to review how markets work to make way for new technologies and their integration into the electricity system: “Wholesale market design should be improved to better integrate distributed resources, reward greater flexibility, and create a level playing field for all technologies.”

And it seems that the researchers are addressing our local regulators with their recommendations. It is no secret that I have been calling out for revisions in our policies that would pave the way for new players so that Filipino consumers can enjoy lower power costs especially since new technologies are emerging.

Time and time again I have been calling the attention of the Department of Energy (DOE) to take drastic measures to promote competition rather than protect private interests as this is the essence of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).

Unfortunately, despite the passage of this law, the welfare of the Filipino consumers takes a backseat while private interests in the distribution sector prevail as manifested in different ways.

For example, currently, our energy regulators are disallowing other franchise holders to enter the market where a Distribution Utility (DU) is already in place, which against runs counter to the essence of promoting competition.

This was the same point made by Smith in his paper when he stressed that “There are numerous ways to introduce competition into electric power distribution. Perhaps the most obvious is to eliminate state policies which grant distributors exclusive operating permits. Customers should have the right to bypass distributors and contract directly with generator owners.”

If one understands basic economics, then it is evident that having more players in the market would always push down prices and create a more efficient delivery of goods and services because this is what competition among businesses does. Preventing the encroachment of another player in an already franchised area will only result in a monopoly where consumers will have to endure higher prices and less efficient service delivery. There is no incentive for the lone provider to improve the services and lower down costs, anyway.

Our flawed power procurement rules should also be reviewed. At present the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) procurement rules do not require DUs or Electric Cooperatives (ECs) to differentiate between baseload, peaking and mid-merit, and fail to take account that some power sources are better used for baseload and others for peaking or mid-merit. The classic example is the use of coal-fired power plants during mid-merit, which when done, diminishes the cost advantages of the plant. Such practice results in inefficient deployment of energy sources.

Unfortunately, procurement rules do not differentiate the power requirements to the detriment of the consumers as they are not enjoying the cost advantages of a particular power source. Instead, our practice only benefits the DUs or ECs.

There is a remedy for this as the ERC can refuse to grant Power Sales Agreements (PSAs) that does not define the limits on the use of a particular power source. We can use each energy source more efficiently and at the same time help level the playing field for generators if the ERC puts such restrictions in the PSAs.

These are just some of the few issues that prevent competition to flourish within the power distribution sector. There are more that requires the attention of our regulators. Change is necessary if we want to move to where the EU is heading.

There are many reasons why countries and regions like EU are embracing technology such as the concept of dynamic pricing by changing and drafting new regulations. Lowering the cost of power rates is just one of them.

The Filipinos can enjoy lower power prices, too. They can even choose where or from whom to source their power as well as select their meters rather than merely accept the ones from the distributor. Consumers can also become generators and distributors themselves if they wish. All these are possible if major policy shifts take place and when our regulators finally prioritize the welfare of the public rather than those of the few.

References:

Currents of Competition in Electricity Markets by Vernon L. Smith

Utility of the Future by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Run Your Dishwasher When the Sun Shines; Dynamic Power Pricing Grows

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-electricity-prices-insight/run-your-dishwasher-when-the-sun-shines-dynamic-power-pricing-grows-idUSKBN1KN0L7

For European utilities, demand for dynamic pricing on the rise
https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/blogs-european-utilities-demand-dynamic-pricing

Off-Grid Renewable Energy is the Way to Go

 

Southeast Asia Market Analysis man on boat solar panels

Growth of off-grid renewables in Asia increased to 4.3 GW in 2017 from 1.3 GW in 2008. Photo c/o http://www.irena.org

The number of people served by off-grid renewables around the world has increased six-fold since 2011 as there are roughly 133 million people enjoying renewables in remote areas in 2016 according to International Renewable Energy Association in its report, Off-Grid Renewable Energy Solutions: Global and Regional Status Trends.

Of the 133 million, there are 100 million who are using solar lights, 24 million solar homes and nine million are connected to a mini-grid.

In terms of capacity, off-grid renewable capacity has also increased three-folds from under two gigawatts in 2008 to 6.5 in 2017.

The report noted that growth came from the Asia and Africa regions with 76 million Asians and 53 million Africans enjoying the benefits of off-grid renewable energy. Asia accounted for the most significant growth over the last decade from 1.3GW in 2008 to 4.3 GW in 2017. The population that’s enjoying RE in the region has increased by eight times, from 10 million in 2008 to 76 million in 2016.

The growth of renewable energy use in remote areas is not surprising since it has long been established that renewable can reduce energy poverty as well as help lower power costs even for isolated areas.

In the Philippines, various studies are concluding that the country will have big savings by using renewables for off-grid locations.

For example, recently, the Access to Sustainable Energy Program (EU-ASEP), a European Union (EU) funded program has said that the National Power Corporation can save as much as Php 2.25 billion, which is the equivalent of Php 4.50 per kilowatt-hour if the agency chooses hybrid technology for its mini-grids.

The EU, through its strategic advisor of the study, Dr. Christoph Menke defines hybrid mini-grid as “combines at least two different kinds of technologies for power generation and distributes the electricity to several consumers through an independent grid.” This means combining renewable energy with a traditional source of power such as diesel power plants as what most off-grid islands use for their energy.

The Php 2.25 billion savings is feasible, our Energy Department confirms in a statement: “Hybridization, in combination with properly maintained generator-sets will enable NPC to save around P2.25 billion annually.”

The EU-backed research is not alone in emphasizing the importance of adding more renewables for off-grid islands in the Philippines.

Similar recommendations were provided by the paper entitled “Electricity-Sector Opportunities in the Philippines: The Case for Wind- and Solar-Powered Small Island Grids,” which stressed that country could save as much as Php10 billion if off-grid islands use RE rather than traditional power sources.

The study also noted that shifting to more use of renewable power will not affect the availability of power in these areas: “Small island grids powered by solar, wind, and other renewable energy could reduce dependence on expensively imported fossil fuel generation without compromising the availability of power and grid reliability.”

Choosing renewables is the best solution to address energy poverty in the country especially when there are some 2.4 million Filipinos homes without access to poverty as of 2014.

Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella has recently announced that the Energy Department is ready to release a Department Circular named Renewable Portfolio Standards Rules for Off-grid Area, mandating industry players of off-grid and missionary areas to source a part of their needs from renewable sources. The RE requirement or percentage, as well as the yearly incremental RE generation in every off-grid area yet, has to be determined.

The circular could have been released much earlier given that the need to provide access to power and lower energy rates has been there all along. Nevertheless, may this circular help in providing stable and affordable electricity to fellow Filipinos living in isolated areas.

References:
Off-Grid Renewable Energy Solutions: Global and Regional Status Trends IRENA
http://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2018/Jul/IRENA_Off-grid_RE_Solutions_2018.pdfhttp://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2018/Jul/IRENA_Off-grid_RE_Solutions_2018.pdf

Electricity-Sector Opportunities in the Philippines: The Case for Wind- and Solar-Powered Small Island Grids. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

https://business.mb.com.ph/2018/09/11/doe-eu-estimate-p2-25-b-savings-in-hybrid-solution-for-off-grid-areas/

https://www.manilatimes.net/energy-circulars-on-uniform-electricity-bill-re-use-inked/438275/

Failing Miserably

According to the Bloomberg New Energy Outlook (NEO), renewable energy will lord over the power mix by 2050.

The NEO notes that since the 1970s, fossil fuels have dominated with 60 to 70 percent of the global power generation, but this would soon come to an end.

By 2050, almost 50 percent of total power globally will come from solar and wind technology. Together with hydro, nuclear and other renewables, the total contribution of zero carbon power will be 71 percent.In contrast, fossil fuels will only account for 29 percent, down from its current 63 percent contribution.

The shift to 50 percent renewable energy power scenario is driven by the falling prices of solar PV, wind, and battery technologies. The average PV plant costs will fall by 71 percent by 2050 according to experts. My own personal experience has shown that. Wind is also expected to drop to 58 percent.

Saltwater-Battery-feature-image

A major shift to renewable energy is possible due partly to falling prices of battery storage. Photo c/o Edgy Labs

Battery capacity will receive a total of $548 billion in investments, which will account for its expected price drop. One of my business partners has invested in the flywheel battery storage technology and is experiencing a surge in demand for his batteries.

Indeed, the world is heading towards greater use of sustainable energy. How I wish we can say the same for our country.

It is no secret that the Philippines seems to be heading towards the opposite direction as one of our senators pointed out recently. In fact, just recently the Department of Energy (DOE) has recommended the importation of dirtier fuel, Euro-2 compliant type of fuels. The Philippines is now importing Euro-4 compliant, a much higher quality fuel. Euro 2 is cheaper because its quality is poorer. You get what you pay for.

Senator Loren Legarda, a staunch advocate of renewable energy, has lamented that the Philippines is failing miserably in implementing the Renewable Energy law passed 10 years ago.

In a speech, she stressed that “While many initially thought that the adoption of the RE law in December 2008 represented a firm and decisive policy position on the country’s shift to cleaner and indigenous forms of energy, stakeholders, to date, continue to grapple with mixed signals from those charged with implementing the RE law.”

Legarda added that the Philippines had increased its coal imports at a yearly average of 12.8 percent from 1989 to 2015.

From 2015 to 2016, coal imports volume was even higher by 16% from 17.3 metric tons to 20 metric tons.

She also lamented the growth of installed capacities of coal-fired plants which climbed by 87% from 3,967 MW in 2005 to 7,419 MW in 2016. Another 10,423 MW is in the pipeline.

In contrast, there has been a decline in the renewables’ share in 2016 from 32% from 33.5% in 2005, while coal climbed from 25% in 2005 to 35% in 2016.

Time and time again, renewable energy advocates like myself openly call out to the government to take serious measures to fulfill what the RE law requires.

Other countries including neighbors such as India are making significant progress in their goals to shift to greater use of renewables. Unfortunately, the Philippines is nowhere near its goal of sourcing 30 percent of power from clean sources.

Legarda said it well when she reminded us that it had taken 18 years to pass the law, but it seems harder to implement it: “It was hard then, but even more so now, to convince naysayers on the importance of renewable energy in the country’s development agenda…To date, those charged with implementing these policy mechanisms seem to want to continue the debate on matters decided upon by legislators ten years ago.”

Hopefully, those in charge see the need of implementing the RE law swiftly. Our recent experience with the monsoon rains in the second week of August, which left Metro Manila and nearby areas flooded should convince us that we need to take care of the environment. This includes following laws intended to spare us from the effects of climate change. Plus, of course, we need renewable power for a more sustainable economic growth.

References:

New Energy Outlook 2018: https://bnef.turtl.co/story/neo2018?teaser=true

http://www.bworldonline.com/legarda-cites-slipping-renewable-energy-share/

Such Folly

sulu pinterest

Modular nuclear plant for Sulu? Renewables is a much better option. Photo c/o pinterest

The local government unit (LGU) in Sulu is said to be looking at putting up a modular nuclear power plant (NPP).

A report by The Inquirer quoted Energy Department’s spokesperson and undersecretary Felix William saying, “Yes, Sulu. It’s actually small. They are looking at a modular facility.” The undersecretary, however, admitted that a modular nuclear plant is a remote possibility.

And Fuentebella is right to say so. After all, the suggestion is a folly.

For one, what we have are outdated legislative and regulatory frameworks to guide us in developing a nuclear power plant. Whoever suggested building a nuclear power plant in Sulu seems to have forgotten that our regulatory framework covering NPPs were created more than 50 years ago. However all these were either repealed or downgraded during President Cory’s time. In particular, Philippine Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was downgraded to a Philippine National Research Institute (PNRI). PAEC was regulating the nuclear power development and operations including licensing of engineers.

The existing legislative framework in the regulation of nuclear technology in the country are the Science Act of 1958 and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Act of 1968 or RA 5207 where there are two different regulating agencies in the use of radiation, namely the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) and the Bureau of Health Devices and Technology (BHDT) under the Health Department.

The PNRI is in charge of regulating nuclear and radioactive materials while the BHDT governs the electrically generated radiating emitting devices in all the fields. Unfortunately, our current framework fails to define the regulatory responsibilities of nuclear plants. Neither of these bodies have the competence nor authority to regulate nuclear power.

Who then would issue a license to build and operate the nuclear facility since there is no licensing agency anymore? We need to create a new law that would define the responsibilities of each regulating agency in charge of nuclear power.

And even if we can pass a law quickly, there remains the question of human resources. In the first place, how much expertise do we have on nuclear technology locally? This leads me to my second point.

The Philippines lacks the technical skills for a nuclear power plant. There is a shortage of qualified experts and experienced workers in running an NPP. Those involved in building the Bataan power plant may no longer be around or have retired from work altogether.

This a known fact. The absence of qualified people is a gap that some lawmakers tried to address when they proposed the re-opening of the Bataan Power plant.

For example, House Bill 580 or the “Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) Operability Act” filed by the late Senator Mirriam Santiago had a provision mandating the creation and implementation of a training program for the management and operation of all technical aspects of the BNPP.

The same bill also proposed for the University of the Philippines (UP) to form a Nuclear Power Engineering Department under the College of Engineering, which should only be to “offered for enrollment to the top twenty percent (20%) of engineering graduates” of the university. The proposal also called for a separate course in UP that will specialize in nuclear power industry regulation.

The late senator obviously knew what she was proposing. Her senate bill recognized the lack of qualified people to build, run and regulate NPPs in this country and the need to recruit the brightest minds to handle nuclear energy. Up to this day, there remains a shortage of people to run and regulate nuclear power.

In the absence of local experts and experienced personnel, who will then build and run the NPPs? Are we to turn to foreigners and rely solely on their expertise? This raises the question of whether we should entrust the operations of a power plant entirely in the hands of foreigners. Our current laws, unless exempted by another law, prohibits foreigners from practising their profession in the country.

Plus, let us not forget that Sulu remains to be a conflict area where bombings and gunfights are constant. Keep in mind that an accidental release of radioactive material from a nuclear could cause death, acute health effects and even long-term environmental consequences. Putting a nuclear plant in the middle of a war zone may have dire repercussions. The idea of putting a nuclear power plant in a location with persistent bombing and shooting is absurd.

So, where did the suggestion of using a modular nuclear power plant come from? Was this the idea of a person or entity who has yet to hear the benefits of renewable energy? Have we forgotten that the Philippines including conflict areas in Mindanao are well endowed with natural resources that can be utilized to generate power?

We should focus on what is doable. Banking on indigenous renewable energy and distributed generation is the sensible alternative rather than the modular nuclear power plant.