More and more local government units (LGUs) are likely to turn their backs on coal with environmental and climate-justice advocates positively predicting a shift toward renewable energy and a more sustainable development path.
Over the past few years, a good number of LGUs have already rejected coal projects—whether related to mining coal or the construction of a coal-fired power plant—with some LGUs even passing resolutions or ordinances affirming their position on the issue.
These include the provinces of Bohol, Guimaras, Negros, Ilocos Norte, Masbate, South Cotabato and Ozamis City.
Chuck Baclagon of 350.org Southeast Asia, in a reply to a question via e-mail, said: “Masbate, Guimaras, Sorsogon, Ilocos Norte, Bohol and Negros Oriental have already declared themselves as coal-free zones. The growing number of provinces and other local governments issuing such resolutions reflect the increasing realization across the world that coal is bad for the people and the climate.”
He added that the false claim that coal is the cheapest energy source has already been debunked.
“The over P1 trillion worth of coal plants in the pipeline are at risk of becoming stranded assets, as discovered by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis,” he added.
End of coal age
Baclagon said the age of coal is coming to an end. Globally, he noted, there is an intense campaign against coal going on, with environmental and climate-justice advocates influencing policy-makers and decision makers in government and private sectors.
“This is the message we are sending to cities, states, businesses and civil society around the world. In fact, some of them are gathering in California for the Global Climate Action Summit, which has invited every mayor, governor and local leader in the world to make a bold climate commitment to help the world reach the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement,” he explained.
Switching to clean energy
Rodne Galicha of the Climate Reality Project agreed that more LGUs in the Philippines are saying no to coal and are switching to clean energy.
“In 2016 Ilocos Norte became the first LGU to eliminate coal from its energy sources, declaring the province a ‘clean, green and coal-free province,’” Galicha said told the BusinessMirror through e-mail.
Ilocos Norte has a 264-megawatt (MW) installed wind capacity as of 2015, making it the country’s wind energy capital.
In the Visayas, Guimaras announced in February that it was breaking free from coal.
Known for its anti-fossil fuel resistance, the island province resisted the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Iloilo City due to the potential impacts on its communities. It has been the home to the region’s first wind farm, the 54-MW San Lorenzo plant since 2014.
“More LGUs are hosting renewable-energy [RE] plants, showing their support for sustainability,” Galicha said.
Solar, wind farms
Galicha said solar farms—the most reliable RE source currently being used in the Philippines—are now operating in Pampanga, Batangas, Cavite, Negros Oriental and Cagayan de Oro City.
Wind farms have also been set up in Rizal and Aklan.
“More local communities have expressed their desire for a switch to renewables due to its environmental, health and economic benefits compared to fossil fuels,” he added.
According to environmental groups, there is now a trend on LGUs rejecting coal projects, apparently realizing coal’s adverse and long-term environmental and health impact.
The Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) said that LGUs are slowly realizing the “benefits” of being coal-free.
“There is indeed a trend of LGUs slowly realizing the pros in rejecting coal projects. These LGUs are realizing that their respective constituents’ sentiments in opposing coal projects are very much valid and compelling,” CEED Executive Director Gerry Arances told the BusinessMirror via Messenger.
According to Arances, coal projects do not only affect the health of the host communities and the environment and climate, in general, but also destroy local livelihoods and industries.
“Look at Palawan, Bohol or Guimaras. How can you promote coal there if it will affect the local tourism industry among many others like impacts to fragile biodiversity?” he asked.
Arances said more important, with the advent of cheaper and more accessible new RE sources, an LGU can no longer be held hostage by just one source of dirty energy just to provide the needed electricity to their respective territories.
Cheaper renewable energy
“Even the issue of revenues for local governments is a misconception. One, these coal projects apply for numerous exemptions under the Investment Code. The so-called ‘cheap-energy’ benefits to their constituents are also being questioned,” he said.
“How can coal projects argue that they are the cheapest when solar and wind nowadays is around P2.99/KWh [kilowatt-hour] and P3.50/KWh compared to around P5/KWh for coal?
According to Arances, the trend is that solar, wind and other RE sources do not rely on imported fuels and will just get even cheaper in the years to come.
“So, if you weigh everything and come up with a strategic cost-benefit analysis, LGUs benefit more in rejecting these dirty and costly projects and reap the benefits that the shift bring to their constituents and their citizens right to clean and affordable energy, and right to a balanced and healthful ecology. Other countries and local governments are already reaping the benefits of this shift. Why not a country, and local governments and their constituents?” he asked.
Support to LGUs
Galicha said the national government needs to provide support to the LGUs so they could fully transition to greener-energy sources.
“It begins with economic reforms to incentivize such transitions and encourage more investments toward solar, wind and other renewables,” he said.
Galicha said that, for many communities, renewables provide an opportunity for self-generation of electricity, lowering costs and providing other benefits in the long run.
“The administration’s current support to operationalize 10,000 MW of coal power in the next few decades need to be reversed for the long-term well-being of all communities in the country,” he added.
He said LGUs near coal plants would be at high risk of exposure to pollution, while other areas will still be affected by impacts partly brought by coal-based energy generation, such as sea-level rise and droughts.
“Supporting the shift to renewables is not merely a political statement for the international community; it is the best option toward achieving local sustainable development,” he said.
The Philippines, an island archipelago, remains highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change-triggered events.
Mining coal and operating coal-fired power plants are not helping protect and conserve its already fragile ecosystem, even as it struggles to implement various environmental laws meant to, among others, protect and conserve its rich biodiversity, ensure sustainable exploitation and use of its natural resources, and, lately, to enhance the country’s natural defense against natural calamities, including the intensifying typhoons and excessive rain that trigger flash floods, and landslide.
This, coupled with sea-level rise and deadly storm surge spell disaster.
For environmental and climate-justice advocates, adaptation and mitigation measures, starting with breaking free from coal or stopping coal addiction, LGUs are indeed going green by rejecting dirty coal projects.