Think tank: Coal can make or break the Philippines’ economy

Napocor, Palawan LGU ink deal to power 6000 homes

Countries that have high and fast coal consumption are likely to experience rapid economic expansion, while the exact opposite can be said for countries that depend less on coal.

This was the assessment of Bienvenido Oplas, Jr., head of the consultancy firm Minimal Government Thinkers, as he criticized the push of some sectors block coal in the country, citing environment and health concerns.

In a column in the BusinessWorld, Oplas said it has become a trend that countries which grew three times its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have relied heavily on coal energy, including China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“Philippines’ coal use is actually small compared to its neighbors,” Oplas said, pointing out that the country’s coal consumption for 2016 is just half of Malaysia (19.9 Metric Tons Oil Equivalent, mtoe) and Vietnam (21.3 mtoe) combined, a third of Taiwan (38.6 mtoe) and a fifth of Indonesia (62.7 mtoe).

Meanwhile, countries with a decline in coal use like the United States, Russia, Germany, and the UK, experienced a slower economic development thrice lesser its GDP size.

Coal-fired power industries provide cheaper and stable energy, which easily translates to increased convenience for consumers with too many activities now are impossible without stable electricity supply, he said.

Oplas’s pronouncement came in light of lobbying by left-leaning groups such as Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), Sanlakas, Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), Koalisyong Pabahay ng Pilipinas (KPP), and Power for People (P4P), for the government to cancel new power supply agreements for coal plants.

He said alternatives to coal for the Philippines at this time would prove disastrous.

“What is bad for the people’s health and livelihood are more candles and noisy gensets running on diesel when there are frequent brownouts coming from intermittent, unreliable renewables like solar and wind,” he said.

Power interruptions also do not bode well for Duterte’s campaign against criminality. “What is bad for people’s health and security are dark streets at night that contribute to more road accidents, more street robberies, abduction and rapes, murders and other crimes.”

Oplas also stressed that natural gas power is not the answer to a more affordable and stable electricity, especially when there are no big renewable franchises (hydro, geothermal or biomass) plants coming in.

“Wind and solar are limited by their intermittent nature, have low capacity factors, high capital expenditures, and are often located far away from the main grid,” he said, citing Mindanao’s experience with big coal plants where the generation price has gone down to P3 per kilowatt per hour (kWh) and P2.50 per kWh at most.

“Coal power has big leeway for lower price if competition becomes tighter,” Oplas said.