What’s the future of waste-to-energy facility in the Philippines?

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Many investors are becoming more interested in investing in waste-to-energy (WTE)  facility, after the Department of Energy (DOE) approved the country’s first WTE facility last year in Palawan.

Several planned WTE facility projects followed such as the planned WTE facility in Cebu that is being eyed by a Chinese firm; the WTE facility at the Calahunan Engineered Sanitary Landfill in Mandurriao district, Iloilo City; as well as the P4.5-billion WTE facility planned to be constructed in Pangasinan byGreen Atom Renewable Energy Corporation.

Aside from DOE, there are other government agencies interested in pursuing the WTE initiative such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“That’s our direction now, considering there’s increasing generation of waste in the country,” DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones was quoted in a Philippine News Agency report.

The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center also said the WTE projects are rising opportunities for power investors as many local government units are becoming interested in WTE.

PPP Center Executive Director Ferdinand A. Pecson expects to see more WTE as PPP’s project due to the country’s indigenous sources problems and waste management issues.

“Energy is one of the pressing needs of the country, and also we have environmental problems like waste, which is also an important problem to solve. So we’re talking of a solution that addresses both the need for energy — renewable energy — and addressing sanitary, environmental (concerns). So cities have such problems, all cities, all local governments are looking for solutions to address this and already,” Pecson was quoted in a BusinessWorld report.

However, just like any energy source it comes with its own set of pros and cons.

According to environmentalists, putting up WTE facilities will only cause the Philippines financial losses and debt due to the unclear law mandate on renewable energy projects, as shown by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), as a response to Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) feasibility study for a project in Quezon City.

“The proposed incinerator will use fire grates to ensure waste combustion which will cause emissions of toxic and hazardous cancer-causing pollutants like dioxins and furans—a clear violation of the Clean Air Act and Ecological Solid Waste Management Act,” No Burn Pilipinas (NBP) was quoted.

Other environmental advocates also added that many companies are still trying to sell incinerators in the Philippines until now.

“Despite the incineration ban in the Clean Air Act, there are many companies that are coming to the Philippines, trying to sell incinerators, but they’re doing it by calling it different names, like ‘waste-to-energy,'” Silliman University professor Jorge Emmanuel, told Rappler on Wednesday, January 25.

“But when you look at the technology behind it, many of the technologies are simply the standard incinerator, with the addition of heat recovery boiler or some type of heat recovery,” he added.

Sustainability experts have different opinions regarding the matter. They perceive waste-to-energy facilities to be the lesser evil in a country where laws and provisions did not solve the urgent waste problems.

DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones believes that this kind of technology is more environment-friendly than sanitary landfills as it leaks methane and other greenhouse gases that have negative effects on the environment and health. Whereas WTE technologies use biogas or enzymes to convert waste into energy.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has committed to pioneer the creation of a regulatory framework on WTE technologies as he believes that it would benefit the country in terms of a more secure energy system and a way to address the issue of waste management system.

The solon sees financial availability as a problem in promoting the use of WTE technology.

“Financial viability is an issue because it is very expensive to build these facilities and the ‘tipping fee’ or garbage processing fee paid by Local Government Units (LGUs) is too low. If the tipping fee is low, the price of the output (electricity, fuel, or gas) is too high,” he said.