While other countries in the world are slowly shifting to cleaner forms of energy, the Philippines seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
The recent BMI Research of the Fitch Group noted that coal-fired power plants would dominate new energy infrastructure in the next 10 years. “Growth in the Philippines power infrastructure sector over the next 10 years will be driven by investment in coal-fired generating capacity as companies and the government build a slew of new power plants to support growing electricity demand,” according to the report.
Based on the group’s research, there is roughly 7,300 Megawatts (MW) capacity that is either under, approved or already for construction. Of these, 90 percent are coal-fired energy plants. Even the Visayas and Mindanao regions, which by the way have more renewable energy sources particularly, hydro and geothermal in their power mix, will be recipients of the future coal plants.
The report pointed out that the there is a price to pay for the country’s continued reliance on coal-fired plants.
One of the significant consequences is that the Philippines will have to keep fuel imports steady in the next five to 10 years when these power stations become operational.
“As the share of electricity generated from thermal — and especially coal — sources grows from 73% in 2017 to 77% in 2026, the Philippines will have to increase imports of fuels to feed newly built coal-ﬁred power plants.”
There are various reasons why this report bothers me.
For one, we are lagging behind in our commitments to provide cleaner forms of energy given the amount that would be generated in the coming years from coal plants. While the rest of the world is moving away from coal, we are still stuck and depending heavily on this form of energy.
Again, I stress that I have no issues with coal plants per se, having built some of them during my time as Napocor chief. But the world and its needs have changed, and we need to get our energy from cleaner sources. Other countries are making drastic changes. China alone, the world’s biggest consumer of coal is shifting to RE by pouring some $361 billion worth of RE investments by 2020. Its government has also canceled roughly 150 coal projects from September last year to March this year.
Unfortunately, we are heading towards the opposite direction largely because our government regulations are not supportive of the growth of the RE sector. For one, we still have limited participation from foreign investors in the energy infrastructure, and as such, limited funds flow to build more RE plants.
Our regulatory environment is far from friendly for both consumers and RE producers, too.
For one, our regulators use an incorrect valuation for the beta by taking the value from the point of view of the generator than of the consumers for our floating Power Sales Agreements or PSAs. Unfortunately, our PSAs have pass through costs, which means power consumers pay end up paying for higher energy prices when the peso falls against the dollar and when coal and oil prices surge in the global market because of the value of the beta, which has a positive value.
As I have said previously, this is incorrect as the the consumers are the ones who are shouldering the cost of foreign exchange fluctuation as well as the fuel risks. Hence, the beta in our tariff setting should be a negative one to reflect the risks borne by consumers for both the foreign currency adjustments and world prices of oil and coal.
Plus, I have discussed in an old blog post, our regulators place an arbitrary value on the beta when it comes to cost recovery in our tariff setting. For example, a geothermal plant and coal-fired power plant will have the same beta value. This is faulty because the developer of a geothermal power plant takes more risks given the exploration cost than the coal-fired power plant developer. The incorrect application of the core concept of the capital asset portfolio model is detrimental to the development of renewables.
Again, at the risk of sounding like a parrot, our energy planner belongs to the school of thought that coal-plants are cheaper the RE ones. These planners only look at the upfront cost of building power plants rather than scrutinize the risks that consumers shoulder when relying significantly on fossil fuels.
I have repeatedly pointed out that traditional sources of energy are not necessarily cheaper as we could end up paying more given our heavy dependence on imported coal. Even the above report of BMI stressed that we are importing 70 percent of our coal needs from neighbors. So, what happens when coal prices increase? What happens if importation becomes more expensive due to various factors? We have been in this situation before where our power rates have increased because getting coal abroad has become difficult.
Sadly, it is the Filipinos who are screwed with such flawed thinking as the ordinary Pinoy consumer pays for these upward price adjustments. We do, after all, have the pass-on provisions where customers pay for price fluctuation.
We have been suffering from high power rates for several decades now. And as I have been discussing in quite some posts, the key to solving high electricity prices is to one, have more renewable energy in our mix and second to have fixed-price contracts for our PSAs.
Our best bet to lower power prices is to have more RE in our energy mix. RE will be a cheaper alternative as many experts have stressed that the prices of RE technologies will continue to fall.
Regrettably, it seems unlikely that our country will shift to more cleaner form of energy soon. Understandably, moving to cleaner energy will not happen over night.
In the meantime, we must find ways to mitigate the consequences of relying heavily on coal-fired plants. I stand firm on my position that we need a greater share of renewables. But we must, at the very least, consider having fixed-priced contracts where we use a risk-free rate, the negative beta as I have mentioned above in the discount rate in computing for the tariff (reasons for this are in an in-depth discussion in my previous post.)
RE sources are in the best to position to give out these fixed-priced contracts, which do not pass-on the costs to consumers. These contracts will not burden consumers by making them pay for price fluctuation of coal importation costs since there are no import costs of raw materials in RE production.
Yes, we do need more infrastructure, particularly more power plants as our economy develops. But we must also pay attention to the welfare of ordinary Filipinos as we build for our future. Heavy reliance on coal-fired plants will be detrimental to our families as they shell out more money to pay their electric bills. I implore our energy planners to map out and scrutinize all options available as we try to meet our increasing demands for energy.