Feeling left out and their voices unheard during the government-initiated Mindanao Power Summit where President Benigno Aquino III himself faced the stakeholders to discuss the Mindanao power shortage, the Mindanao consumers felt the need to have its own space where their sentiments can be freely discussed and addressed. Seeing the need to provide this space, the Freedom from Debt Coalition together with its chapters in Mindanao organized the Mindanao Consumer Summit on 11 May.
Some 150 delegates coming from various Mindanao consumer groups and power sector stakeholders such as electric cooperatives attended the summit where the common sentiment is one of disappointment over the solutions presented by the government during the Mindanao Power Summit earlier, in April.
Based on its study, FDC pointed out that there are some 10 million Mindanaoans that have no access to electricity, 42% of which are children and that with the prevailing dominance of the corporate sector in the power industry, these communities will less likely be provided for as such investments would not be worth the investments because of minimal returns from the perspective of the private sector.
The stakeholders strongly believe that the recent blackouts are artificial, and that in the long-term, they will have to face more adverse consequences. These suspicions were proven right when Engr. Nestor Degoma, Chairperson of Power Alternative Agenda (PALAG-Mindanao), a consumers group in Mindanao, confirmed during the Consumers Summit the allegations that several plant managers are being instructed by the system operator thru the privately-owned National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) to produce low generating capacity despite a higher degree of capacity and supply.
Renewable energy sources
According to a Greenpeace Southeast Asia energy mapping, Mindanao sits on a "gold mine of renewable energy sources." This is confirmed by the Department of Energy renewable energy program where it lists up to thousands of available megawatts from renewable energy sources in the island such as geothermal (290MW potential plus current 103MW plus approved 50MW projects), hydropower (1080MW current capacity plus 1263.9MW targeted additional capacity), wind (336MW potential capacity), biomass (36.8MW awaiting implementation), and solar power (estimated 5KWhours per square meter). Greenpeace adds that if the government will conduct further resource mapping, there will even be more potentials that will come out to add to this list.
Unfortunately, the actions of the government seem to be pointing to the direction of the President forgetting the campaign promise he made where he said then that he was for the phase-out of coal power and that the country must make the serious shift toward clean energy sources.
Von Hernandez of Greenpeace Southeast Asia was quoted in news reports as saying that the government is practically "sleeping on the job" as it has been nearly three years since the Renewable Energy Bill became law. But it is not yet being implemented up to now. He is quoted as saying that the government has been very slow in issuing policy guidelines on how the implement the law while it is fast-tracking approvals and implementation of construction and operation of coal-fired power plants.
While the current government just inherited the problem from previous administrations' inactions on the power situation in Mindanao, it is not easily off the hook as its proposed solutions bear out the shortsightedness of its plans: Coal-fired power plants are the answer.
In Mindanao, there have been several projects already approved, and are in varying stages of construction and operation. In Davao del Sur, for instance, two adjacent but separate coal-fired power plants with a total of 300 megawatt (MW) have started construction. It has already affected communities living in the area as the land has been fenced off, and would demolish a Moro cemetery, which is considered sacrilegious by the Muslim people. The ancestral domain of the Kalagan tribe, an indigenous community in the area will also be affected.
Opposition is also ongoing in Zamboanga del Sur, Talisayan Village whose main industry is sardines canning as the companies believe that constructing a 100M coal-fired power plant in the area would affect the sardine industry in the area.
Mindanaoans' and other stakeholders' solutions
At the Mindanao Consumer Summit, the participants identified several solutions to the Mindanao power situation articulated in a Manifesto that is the main output of the said summit. In the immediate, the Manifesto cites the following urgent actions that government should undertake:
• Stop the further sale of assets of National Power Corporation (Napocor) that includes the Agus-Pulangi hydro-electric plants;
• Be transparent in providing stakeholders results of technical audit and latest data of all declared generating capacity in Mindanao, and up-to-date status of on-grid transmission lines;
• Dispatch and optimize operating capabilities of all generating units;
• Improve and rehabilitate immediately all units of Agus-Pulangi hydro-electric power plants, and stop allowing the intentional decay of said power plants to pave the way for private sector take over and the introduction of costly climate change-inducing power plants such as coal;
• Dredge silted parts of and implement watershed reforestation and development projects to promote sustained water flow in Agus and Pulangi rivers;
• Provide a clear program for the demand-side management for all consumer classes;
• Ensure genuine consumer representation at the Energy Regulatory Commission, Napocor, and Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation; and,
• Set up a multisectoral commission, with strong representation from consumer groups, to take on oversight functions.
For strategic and long-term solutions, the Consumers Summit came up with the following proposals to government:
• Conduct a review of EPIRA towards overhauling the law;
• Conduct a democratic and participatory planning and demand-side management to come up with a Mindanao Energy Plan in 20 to 30 year plan using the framework that signals the transition to clean energy;
• Implement Mindanao-wide integrated resource assessment;
• Implement the socialized feed-in tariffs (SoFIT) to immediately encourage more Renewable Energy investments and make sure that these are carried out in a more equitable and just manner, consistent with the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities: those who emit more, must pay more for the transition to clean energy;
• Encourage embedded mini-hydro project among the distribution utilities; and,
• Develop renewable energy sources to be led by the government instead of over reliance on private investors.
Campaign and Lobby actions
The participants at the Consumers Summit have committed themselves to follow through on these demands by continued pressure and lobby efforts directed towards the relevant government agencies. Concretely, the Consumers Summit convened a working group to further flesh out the details of the campaign plan, and ensures that these demands will be translated into policy proposals and action points.
For its part, FDC will pursue its power campaign even more vigorously through its continued lobby and campaign interventions in Congress on the review and overhauling of the EPIRA; policy analyses and proposals to the relevant agencies of government such as the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy on the full implementation of the Renewable Energy Law which includes pushing for a socialized pricing scheme for consumers when renewable energy sources are blended into the current power supply. Job Bordamonte, FDC power campaigner, says that the issues are getting more complex than just privatization of utilities which FDC focuses on, but has expanded to include concerns that climate change brings into the equation, and that certainly means that "business-as-usual" can not be the answer.
*With contribution from Job Bordamonte, FDC campaigner on Power Privatization