Amid climate change concerns, Aboitiz’s new coal-fired plant in Mindanao set to double capacity

by TYRONE A. VELEZ
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY -The Davao City Council approved anew on Tuesday the expansion of the generating capacity of Aboitiz’ Therma South Incorporated (TSI)’s coal-fired power plant up to 650 megawatts.

The approval came amid concerns raised by some councilors regarding the impact of carbon emissions from coal plants.

Only two councilors, lawyers Leah Librado and Antoinette Principe, voted against the proposed expansion.

Therma South, a subsidiary of the Aboitiz Power, was approved by the city council in 2011 to build its 300-MW coal-fired power plant located in Binugao, Toril that will begin operations by 2015. The approval came amid opposition by environmental groups on the long-term effects of coal on health and on the environment.

But three years later, the company has proposed doubling the generation capacity to meet the projected power shortage in Mindanao.

Manuel Orig, Vice President for Mindanao Affairs of Aboitiz, told reporters later that their projections in 2011 fell short.

“When we applied in 2011, the shortage of power by 2014 was projected at 484 MW. We had built the plant already but the DOE study said (the supply) is not enough by 2018. We decided that to help Mindanao’s problem in the past where there is not enough power plants to meet the demand, we proposed to build the plant.”

TSI would operate the expanded plant’s first unit generating 172.5 MW by 2017, and the second batch by 2018.

“We are confident that brownouts will become a thing of the past in Davao,” Orig said.

Orig earlier told the council their company “guarantees” the public they will meet the standards of carbon emissions set by government with the use of latest technology such as circulating fluidized bed and electro-static precipitator to trap coal emissions.

He claimed that they can monitor their carbon emissions “in real time.”

But Councilor Mabel Sunga-Acosta raised concern on Aboitiz’s compliance on environment safety as stipulated in the company’s agreement with the council in 2011.

The councilor found out from Aboitiz’s Assistant Vice President for Environment Soccoro Patindol that the company had complied only 25 percent of planting one-million trees targeted by the company to absorb the carbon emissions.

“With 25 percent compliance (on tree planting) and the plant due to start next year, how will you assure …. That’s a long, long way to go,” Acosta asked.

Patindol said Aboitiz has planted 1,000 trees in Marilog, and is targeting other hinterland areas such as Kiboloy, Baricatan, and Paquibato. She said they are also planting mangrove trees as these have higher capacity to “sequester” or absorb carbon emissions.

Orig said their tree-planting is right on schedule.

He also said that with the additional 345 MW plant, they are committed to plant a million more trees.

But Acosta proposed to add on the resolution requiring Aboitiz to plant trees yearly instead to help mitigate the impact of carbon emissions.

Councilor Diosdado Mahipus challenged the company to set a timeframe on when will the company cease its coal-powered plant, citing that European countries had closed down their coal powered plants due to issues on excessive carbon emissions.

Orig said only the public’s demand for power would be the determining factor.

“The determining factor to tell you if there is a need to continue generating power from coal plants is the demand for power and the supply for power. Question is where would you get the supply for power to meet the demand. Right now we are using as much renewable energy from geothermal and hydro-powered plants, but renewable are not enough,” Orig said.

Councilor Marissa Salvador-Abella proposed the establishment of an ecological landscape plan that will have a design or system in the plant area that would include tree planting and coastal planting with mangroves.

But Councilor Antoinette Principe is not convinced with the mitigating measures.

“I will not discount the mitigating measures; the TSI had efforts to put up such counter-measures. But I cannot sleep at night thinking about coal. Because there is no such thing as clean coal, coal is still coal,” she told reporters after the session.

Principe said the country should protect and explore renewable resources as alternatives.

There are other sources, if we can protect our natural resources; Ilocos Sur has wind energy, why can’t we explore that,” she said.

She and Librado said their vote hinged on a legal doctrine they learned from the Supreme Court about “inter-generational responsibility.”

“Our generation has the responsibility to protect the environment for the future generations to come. My vote is hinged on being a lawyer, legislator, and importantly as a mother,” Principe said. Reposted by ()

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