In Iloilo, there is a ongoing struggle between business groups on one hand, and the Catholic church & environmental groups on the other, over the proposal to build a 100-megawatt coal-fired power plant in the city. According to business groups, the coal plant is needed in order to provide Iloilo city and Iloilo province, as well as the whole of Panay island with enough electricity in the near future. They say that the till now, Iloilo has suffered from “inadequate, expensive, unreliable and poor quality of power supply; and that the power crisis has discouraged investors from coming to Iloilo.
However, the Catholic church and environmental groups oppose the project because of health and pollution threats.
I agree with the church and environmental groups. Building a new coal-fired power plant in Iloilo is a bad idea.
The proposed 100 MW coal fired plant will use up to 300,000 tons of coal a year. In an average year, such a coal plant will generate: 640,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2); 2000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2); 100 tons of small airborne particles; 2000 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx); 140 tons of carbon monoxide (CO);45 tons of hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds;35 pounds of mercury; 45 pounds of arsenic; and 22 pounds of lead; plus some cadmium and other heavy metals. This is a lot of pollution. In addition, dust blown from piles of coal outside the plant also irritates the lungs. And then there is the problem of disposing of the solid residue that is left after the coal is burned.
[reference:Environmental impacts of coal power]
Coal is expensive and the supply is unreliable.
A couple of years ago, coal cost about $30/ton, making the electricity generated from coal cost only slightly more than hydroelectric power. This, plus the fact that the Philippines produced some coal, meant that coal-fired power plants were cheap and didn’t make the country more dependent on imports.
Today, the price of coal has increased to about $160/ton. Add to this the fact that a coal-fired plant costs more to build than a oil or gas-fired plant, and this would make coal one of the most expensive sources of electricity. [note that electricity from oil-fired plants is still more expensive than that from coal]
The price of coal has skyrocketed because of many reasons, but the underlying reason is that the demand for coal from countries like China has increased significantly. China used to export coal to the Philippines; in 2007, China not only kept all its coal production, it also bought a lot of coal in the international market.
The supply of coal is really becoming a problem, especially for electricity generation. In 2007, South Africa had to temporarily cease operations in many of its gold mines because of the lack of electricity. Apparently, there was not enough coal for their coal-fired power plants.
Napocor needs 3.47 million tons of coal a year for its existing coal-fired power plants. As of March 2008, it still needs to acquire 455,000 tons of coal for this year. Adding more coal-fired power plants would only make the problem of obtaining enough coal more acute.
So, if the Napocor wants coal-fired power plants to built in Iloilo, it would not only have to worry about the rapidly increasing price of coal, it will also have to deal with possible shortages of coal.
The potential of generating energy from renewable sources should be explored.
Panay island (and most of the Philippines, for that matter) has a big potential for developing its renewable energy resources for generating electricity. According to the Affiliated Non-conventional Energy Center – based in Central Philippine University (ANEC-CPU), Panay island can develop up to 300 MW of electricity from hydro, 4000 MW from wind energy, 500 MW from biomass, and 5000 MW from solar. This is more than enough to substitute for the proposed 100 MW coal plant.
The local authorities say that they have not received proposals for renewable energy power generation, unlike the companies that offered to build the coal plant. But the question should be reversed: did the provincial government of Iloilo call for bids or proposals for wind or biomass plants? isn’t it their task to make a general call for bids (to companies in the Philippines and abroad) to build electricity generating capacity of 100 megawatts? I’m sure there are enough companies which could take up the offer.