The New Year started with news of record highs for the renewable energy sector.
In Germany, renewable energy dominated the power mix for 2018. A study by Bruno Burger of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems showed that Germany is on its way to becoming less dependent on fossil fuel as renewable energy accounted for 40 percent of the country’s electricity production in 2018 while 38 percent came from coal. This is the first time renewables has overtaken coal as Germany’s primary power source. Wind power also became the second biggest power source.
Similarly, a new record high in renewable energy use was also recorded last year by the United Kingdom (UK).
According to climate research and news site, Carbon Brief, growth in renewable energy use in the UK rose to 33 percent, a record-breaking figure. On the other hand, fossil fuel use dropped to 46 percent, the lowest ever recorded as many coal power plant closed last year. The UK has earlier pledged to phase out all coal plants by 2025.
These two countries’ achievements only show that indeed a shift to cleaner forms of energy is possible.
Unfortunately, the Philippines has not been making headlines for its use of renewable power.
On the contrary, recent headlines about the energy sector talks about the increase in power rates due to the second tranche of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN law.
The second installment of the law equals an additional excise tax of Php2.00 per liter of diesel and gasoline an added 12 percent value for 2019. The total increase per liter of diesel will be Php2.24. Last year, Php 2.50 taxes were levied on diesel and bunker fuel.
Naturally, the new taxes will have a domino effect on consumer prices, transport fares, and yes, power rates.
No, I am not questioning the merits of our new taxation scheme. I leave that to tax experts and economists. What I am merely pointing out is that the new taxes also increase power rates because of the Philippines’ dependence on traditional sources of power.
Estimates by The Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines (IEMOP) show that the second tranche of TRAIN law will raise electricity prices by P0.1111 per kilowatt hour (kWh). By 2020 or on the third installment, the increase would be P0.1311 per kWh. The first phase already raised electricity prices by P0.0904 per kWh. These estimates according to IEMOP are based on the assumptions of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) related to its sourcing energy mix.
Naturally, the power rates will increase if fuel prices in the world market increase, too. In the words of IEMOP President Francis Saturnino Juan, “So, these are the incremental amounts, but of course if the price of fuel itself will increase, then that will add to this incremental increase in 2019 and 2020 because of the staggered increase in the implementation of the law,” he said.
The issue of increasing power prices is a separate one from that of volatility. Volatility itself causes over-all costs to rise because of uncertainty. Because we are dependent on global markets, necessarily we are exposed to global price swings.
We could have spared the Filipinos from this additional burden if we increased the share of renewable power in our power mix a long time ago. Why pay more for expensive sources of energy when we could have just harnessed our natural resources well? This is especially true for off-grid islands that are powered on diesel-fired generators. We have to keep in mind that 80 percent of the operating cost of power generation in isolated islands are spent on diesel. And with added taxes on petroleum products, we can expect higher prices of power generation for the off-grid areas.
That’s just the problem with our reliance on traditional sources of energy and the government’s lack of appreciation for renewables — it leaves Filipinos vulnerable to a variety of factors. Sadly, it is the consumers that suffer when there is no political will to push for a greater share of renewable energy.