The infrastructure program of President Duterte—dubbed as “Build, Build, Build”—is facing a serious roadblock: a literal lack of power.
Observers say the energy sector must get its act together to boost the country’s power capacity if the government’s ambitious program is to succeed.
Alex Magno, columnist for the Philippine Star, said while the government is solid in its resolve to build infrastructure that will spur the economy, the slow progress of key energy projects is threatening to derail these efforts.
“The installation of new power generators is part of the infra modernization program of the current administration. It is, in fact, a key element in that program. If economic growth hits the ceiling of available capacity, our economic progress will screech to a halt. Investment, wary of unreliable power supplies, will flee,” he wrote.
In particular, Magno called out the Energy Regulatory Commission for delays in the approval of new power supply agreements (PSAs).
“Some of them (PSAs) have been in the pipeline for years. The process of permitting and approvals, however, grind exceedingly slow,” he said. Under ERC’s time frame, permits and approvals can take about three years or longer.
Among the pending PSAs are the seven coal-fired power plants worth 3,551-MW of new power, the largest capacity submitted to the board to date from a single distributor (MERALCO). These energy projects are said to be crucial to the massive infrastructure building program.
Magno said what could also be causing the delay is the opposition raised by civil advocate groups.
Such actions against PSAs are proving to be disastrous, an editorial in the Manila Bulletin said, even if they come with well-meaning motives, such as protecting the environment.
“We must keep our long-range goal of boosting our renewable energy program, under our national commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. But in the immediate term – to avoid the power shortages of the 1990s and to provide for President Duterte’s all-out infrastructure program, we may need all the energy we can generate – including those now pending before the ERC,” it said.
Meanwhile, it added that other sectors are losing out from the delays, including those in the business sector, LGUs, and community organizations, who are in support of the projects.
“They look forward to the jobs, livelihood, and other economic benefits the new power plants are expected to create,” it said.
The proposed new power plants, particularly the one in Quezon, will be beneficial to the grid, as it is expected to deliver a critical 1,200-MW power in the area via the ultra-supercritical technology.
The planned power plant in Atimonan, Quezon, is especially distinctive as it will use the Ultra Super Critical Technology now used in the United States, China, Japan, Germany, and other countries. This produces less harmful emissions compared to older plants.
Ultra-supercritical design uses steam generators in the steam cycle of coal-fired electricity generation. They operate at the ‘supercritical’ condition of water. Boiling temperatures are labeled ‘supercritical’ once they reach 221 bars and 374 degree Celsius approximately.