Lawmaker downplays environmental impact of emergency powers
MANILA, Philippines – The chair of the House energy panel on Thursday, December 11, sought to ease concerns over the potential environmental impact of the grant of emergency powers to President Benigno Aquino III, to address a looming power shortage in early 2015.
House energy panel chair Reynaldo Umali argued it would be unwise for plants producing "dirty power" to take advantage of the suspension of Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECC) during the projected 5-month effectivity of the emergency powers, since green laws would again be enforced after the summer months.
Umali was responding to criticisms from the minority bloc that emergency powers for the President meant to solve the supposed power crisis would only pave the way for the establishment of more power plants.
He admitted that the House did not consider the environmental impact of the 5-month ECC suspension as lawmakers focused more on ensuring that brownouts would not occur during the coming summer season.
Under the joint resolution passed by the House on Wednesday, December 10, Aquino was granted special powers to address the energy reserve shortfall in the summer months of 2015. The measure is still pending at committee level at the Senate.
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares sounded the alarm over the provision allowing national agencies and local government units to suspend green laws such as the Biofuels Act, the Clean Air Act, the Philippine Grid Code, and the Philippine Distribution Code, if it would "affect the operation and transmission of the contracted generation capacities."
Umali admitted that ECCs would be suspended during the period but argued that the 5-month cap on the effectivity of the special powers would be enough to discourage power players.
"Let's say you could build 600 megawatt coal-fired plant without ECC and come July, it could be stopped even if you have not recovered your sum cost. Will you do it?" Umali said.
The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates a maximum projected shortfall of 782 megawatts during the summer months of 2015, with 135 megawatts for regulating reserves and 647 megawatts for contingency reserves.
Umali stressed that the suspension of green laws would not be all-encompassing and would be subject to how they would "affect the operation and transmission of the contracted generation capacities."
Umali said the scope of the ECC suspension, as well as other mechanisms under House Joint Resolution No. 21, will be spelled out in the internal rules and regulations that will be released by the DOE once the joint resolution is passed in both chambers of Congress.
The DOE wanted Congress to grant Aquino emergency powers to purchase or lease generation sets worth up to P12 billion to solve the supposed energy crisis.
However, subsequent data from the DOE itself showed the energy crisis was not as bad as projected. Hearings at the energy committee revealed that the projected shortage only covered reserves, not the supply.
The House decided to focus more on utilizing the Interruptible Load Program, a private sector-led initiative that requests businesses to use their own generators during peak hours to lighten the energy load. This, however, is on a voluntary basis.
Additional energy could also be sourced from the "fast-tracking of new committed projects and plants for interconnection and rehabilitation."
In crafting the joint resolution, Umali said Congress prioritized crafting a solution to prevent brownouts rather than assessing the environmental impact of the resolution.
"If you're in a crisis, you don't choose [whether it's clean or dirty power]. Whatever is available there, whatever purpose is allowable since it will only be for a 5-month period," Umalis said.
Companies that would participate in the ILP would be reimbursed for fuel costs and reasonable recovery for use. The amount, estimated at a maximum of P200 million per month depending on usage, would be sourced from the Malampaya fund.
Umali said people should "widen their understanding" of the House proposal.
"If the administration doesn't do anything to prevent the crisis from happening, they will then accuse us of not doing anything," Umali said.
Meanwhile, Senator Sergio Osmeña III has maintained there is no need to grant Aquino additional powers. Osmeña wants the government to focus on the ILP and securing the support of key power players. – Rappler.com