Lawmaker wants geothermal made “sexy” again


While recognizing the challenges facing the country’s geothermal sub-sector, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian wants the renewable energy technology to become “sexy” or attractive once again in the eyes of investors.

Speaking at the opening of the 2nd Philippine International Geothermal Conference (PIGC) held online on Wednesday, Gatchalian — chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy — made the remark given the Malampaya gas field’s depleting supply.

Any capacity that is indigenous is welcome, he says, especially with the impending importation of natural gas, which is expected to drive up electricity rates.

Gatchalian pointed out that while geothermal power only comprises nine percent of the Philippines’ installed capacity and that total committed projects are only less than one percent, the country has 814.2 megawatts in potential geothermal capacity.

“Personally, I’m quite bullish with geothermal. [It] provides that caseload capacity. Geothermal can be a driver of economic growth,” he said.

While the Philippines is currently the third-highest geothermal energy-producing nation in the world, Gatchalian said the country was overtaken by Indonesia as Southeast Asia’s geothermal leader.

Among the challenges geothermal developers in the Philippines are facing, the senator said, are the strict implementation of Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, potential sites being located in remote areas, the high cost of exploration and installation, and relatively slow growth compared to other power generating technologies.

Nonetheless, Gatchalian remains optimistic.

“Let’s find ways to encourage more exploration, more development, more expansion,” he said.

The lawmaker’s sentiment was echoed by New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Kell, especially with the growing demand among countries and companies for net zero emission solutions, which include geothermal.

“We know about the costs, we know about the risks, but we are moving into a world [wherein] there will be more players,” Kell said.

Net zero has become a buzzword with the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in the United Kingdom beginning next week.

Kell was supposed to sign a geothermal-related agreement with Energy Sec. Alfonso Cusi during the event, but the secretary — who was at another online guesting right before the PIGC’s opening — did not show up.

Cusi and Gatchalian have been at odds over the Department of Energy’s approval of Davao-based tycoon Dennis Uy’s Malampaya purchases.