Wanted: Climate-proof energy sector
MANILA, Philippines - One of the more compelling lessons learned in the rehabilitation of areas hit by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) was the importance of restoring electricity to the local population. This was especially critical for urban populated areas such as Tacloban and Ormoc.
“We are the major economic hub of eastern Visayas (region). The jobs in Tacloban provide economic opportunities even for residents of neighboring provinces,” said Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez.
“Without electricity, the whole value chain that the commercial establishments run on remains impaired. It hinders bringing back investments to the province which is badly needed for recovery,” added Romualdez.
Without power, these areas suffer economic losses and opportunity costs.
On November 8, Super Typhoon Haiyan pummeled through central Philippines, leaving 4 million people displaced and more than 6,000 dead. More than 5,000 of the fatalities were in Leyte, the province where Tacloban is located.
The government estimated total damage and loss at $12.9 billion.
Damage to the electricity sector – in terms of damaged and destroyed power stations and toppled electric poles – was estimated at more than $155,000. Of this amount, the electricity distribution facilities operated by electrical cooperatives bore the burnt of the damage at $118,000.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), as of March 4, power supply has been restored in 115 of the 138 villages in Tacloban City.
Electricity is also an urgent need identified by survivors themselves as a necessity for daily life.
“One of the most recurring issues aside from shelter was electricity,” said Gil Arevalo, Communication with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) officer for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).
CDAC interviewed members of affected communities in evacuation centers and relocation sites in Tacloban last December and January.
“With limited electricity, those interviewed said that they need to rely heavily on the use of batteries for essentials like flashlights and radios – their main source of updates. This is quite expensive to those most affected and cannot afford to buy batteries on a regular basis,” said Arevalo.
Resilient energy sector
The government’s blueprint for recovery, the Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda (RAY) highlights the need to climate-proof the energy sector.
Doing so will be a difficult task, said experts.
Currently, the Philippine energy sector consists of several large private corporations and small electric cooperatives who are involved in different aspects of electricity: power generation, transmission and distribution. (READ: The future of energy in the Philippines)
Supplying power to the country’s more than 7,000 islands is dependent on electrical cooperatives operating and distributing electricity within a specific locality.
“The main challenge in building a disaster-resilient energy sector is financial,” said Michael Abundo, a research fellow at the Energy Research Institute at the Nanyang Technological Institute in Singapore.
According to Abundo, some electric cooperatives – especially the smaller ones –are heavily in debt and lack adequate funding for daily operations. Facilities are not properly maintained, broken equipment is often left unfixed, and back-up facilities virtually don’t exist.
“This makes these electrical cooperatives extremely vulnerable during times of disaster,” said Abundo.
Ross Ferrer Factor, of independent power producer Team Energy, said maintenance and repairs are expensive. This results in “quick-fixes instead which are not long-term solutions,” said Factor.
Some equipment can only be sourced overseas which further compounds the problem. “This entails waiting time for the importation and installation, causing delay in the restoration of power.”
At times, quality is sometimes sacrificed when procuring equipment and price is the main consideration.
Of the 33 electricity cooperatives that were affected by Yolanda, 12 are totally damaged and 21 are partially damaged.
Abundo called for investing in the development of renewable energy (RE) sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal is critical in creating an energy sector that is resilient to natural disaster. These RE sources can serve as alternative or complementary sources of energy.
“There should be a mix (of energy sources). You can’t just have one or depend totally on RE either. What is there winds are not strong – where will we get wind energy?” says Abundo.
Ricky de Castro, also of Team Energy, suggests measures that go back to the basics. Power distribution lines should be built a safe distance from houses to avoid poles falling on houses and possibly injuring people.
“The best solution is to put the (power) lines underground,” said de Castro.
Engaging the private sector
The recovery needs of urban calamities such as what befell Tacloban cover services such as electricity, which are beyond the scope of a standard humanitarian response.
However, as many private corporations are found in urban centers, many members of the private sector have taken it upon themselves to take a more active response in recovery and rehabilitation.
“We see private sector participation (in disasters) moving from the usual CSR (corporate social responsibility) to more long-term programs in recovery and rehabilitation,” said Rene Meily, president of the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF).
“Our wake up call was Ondoy. We saw that the private sector also had a role to play in disaster preparedness,” added Meily.
PDRF, comprised of some of the largest private corporations in the Philippines, was originally formed when Typhoon Ondoy (international name Kestana) hit the Philippines, crippling the capital of Manila and main commercial district for days.
Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery Panfilo Lacson agreed that the private sector has much to contribute to the rehabilitation of typhoon-affected areas.
“The private sector can move faster. They are not saddled by the bureaucracy of procurement procedures and such,” said Lacson.
Under a private-public partnership program that has been loosely referred to as “adopt-a-barangay [village],” the Yolanda affected areas have been divided into 24 congressional districts which private corporations can adopt or partner with as a development partner.
Lacson added that the government has “a lot to learn from the private sector” in how it can better rebuild the affected communities.
The former senator vowed in December 2013 to synchronize efforts of both the public and private sectors, including civil society. But, he has public complained that his job is hampered by the lack of sweeping powers and the necessary budget to carry out the government’s rehabilitation plan. (READ: Lacson: Weak powers make rehab harder) – Rappler.com