Is the PH energy mix enough to sustain Duterte’s Golden Age of Infrastructure?

Meralco calls for speedy resolution on Commission-less ERC

If there are a few words that kept coming out of the Duterte administration since they took office, it’s these: The Philippines is a growing economy.

And they are very committed to that statement, especially now that their “Build Build Build” program – that aims to be a path to the ‘golden age of infrastructure’ – is well underway.

The Build, Build, Build program, or BBB, aims to spend up to 7 percent of the country’s economic output, or around P8 trillion, in Duterte’s term.

Most of the projects included under the BBB involve the development of transportation system and highways. There were also projects involving flood management, water supply, and many more.

With around 70 projects to be constructed under the BBB, Department of Energy secretary Alfonso Cusi has said that “trains won’t run, rudders will not work without energy.”

Cusi said that the entire BBB program would need 26, 000 megawatts (MW) worth of power to achieve the government’s long-term development.

This is apart from the 17,000 MW Cusi said the country needed to support its economic growth until 2030.

Meaning, with the growing economy and the BBB program, the country needs 43,000 MW to meet all of these goals.

In 2016, the country had an installed capacity of 21, 423 MW. 34.6 percent came from coal, 32.5 percent are from renewable energy sources, data from the DOE said.

Now, how can the country’s energy plan meet the needs of the growing economy and the BBB program?

Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order that would label energy projects as “of national significance.”

This will “establish a simplified approval process, and harmonize the relevant rules and regulations of all government agencies involved in obtaining permits and regulatory approvals.”

Under the EO, government agencies are required to respond to applications of energy projects 30 days after submission.  

A Manila Standard column said that “Power supply in the Philippines shouldn’t be a problem as long as government agencies and regulating bodies like the ERC enforce the proper and legal process for all energy projects, and prioritize them as of national significance.

Another way to meet the energy demand needed by both the growing economy and the BBB projects is the construction of power plants

In a column posted by the Manila Bulletin, while there is a grand economic plan for the country, there were also recent brownouts due to earthquakes and the sudden shutdown of different power plants.

“The Philippines needs more modern, environmentally friendly baseload power plants,” the column read.

But it’s also a common knowledge that power plants would take years to build, and fully operate. Apart from that, these power projects – particularly the fossil fuel plants – are met with various attacks from environmental groups.

“Unnecessary delays in getting many power plants up and running due to lobbying by renewable energy advocates and leftist groups are not contributing to efforts to trim electricity rates in the Philippines,” the Standard column stated.

Another column stated that DOE would need help from the private sector as a response to the growing demand for power.

“[The DOE] needs the support of the private sector via investments on energy since not enough power plants have been built to cater to the growing demand for energy.”

Looking back at the country’s energy mix back in 2016, coal and renewable energy sources almost had an equal share in the installed capacity.

But in a report by Bloomberg, it said that in order for the Philippines to sustain its 7 percent GDP growth, “coal is unavoidable.” Something that not everyone agrees on.

According to a report last year shared by columnist Tony La Vina, former president Benigno Aquino III, who, during a coal-fired power plant (CFPP) inauguration in Davao City, said that coal “can be tapped into anytime, rain or shine, with very minor fluctuations,” should be advised that renewables like geothermal, solar, and wind are just as reliable as coal in supplying electricity.

La Vina said that the country cannot afford to have a one-track assessment in terms of having options in achieving energy security.

“It is only proper that the government conveys to us what its plans are for the long term and how and when it intends to transition to an energy track that will lead us to sustainable development,” he said.

With the growing economy and the BBB projects lined up under the administration, there is one thing for sure: the DOE needs to ensure energy reliability, and affordable power.