October 5, 2011

Philippines: The President’s renewable energy policy

Energy Secretary Rene Almendras returned a day ahead of President Noynoy Aquino last week from Japan. Despite his abbreviated stay, many are hoping that Secretary Almendras’ visit to the Land of the Rising Sun would have convinced him further that he is doing the right thing by pushing the President’s strong pro-renewable energy policy.

Japan has given the world an important lesson on energy policy. Prior to the Fukushima nuclear plant tragedy, our Asian neighbor has been following a “quick and dirty” solution to its power requirements. It took a major tragedy for Japan to adopt a quick shift to the cleaner, more sustainable renewable energy sources.

The lesson is that one must not wait for a tragedy to happen before one makes a decisive move.

In fairness to Secretary Almendras, he appears like he appreciates the lesson of the Japanese power sector experience.

A few days ago, the energy chief did issue a statement in support of the national renewable energy program. He told the press that the “Department of Energy (DoE) is standing firm on the Aquino administration’s stance to promote the use of renewable energy resources”.

To many, Secretary Almendras’ statement brought a sigh of relief. Before that, concerns were raised that the energy chief was passively allowing a fellow Cabinet member to demolish the President’s renewable energy policy in public. The fear was that Secretary Almendras was not keen on supporting the President’s policy and that he would merely watch from the sidelines as the nemeses of renewable energy tear the policy into pieces.

Almendras’ recent statement should put the fears to rest. Some clarification, however, may have to be done.

First, a trivial matter: the way President Aquino has sounded since he took office last year, he is not interested in simply “promoting” renewable energy use.

Based on his two major speeches on renewable energy, it is clear that what President Aquino envisions is a shift from overdependence on imported fossil fuel and coal to the use of locally-sourced and sustainable, cleaner renewable energy sources.

He is not interested on “promotion”. He wants a shift. He wants energy security.

The President’s vision for a shift could not have been more timely: The country is currently experiencing the true meaning of “expensive and volatile” as applied to imported fossil fuel which run most of our power generators.

Another matter needs to be clarified.

To his credit, Secretary Almendras did say that “renewable energy remains one of the preferred investment spots for power generation in the country”.

This is quite assuring. This means we can all look forward to a future where we are no longer held by the neck by power generation modes that pollute the environment and drain the country of precious dollars paid out at prices dictated by fuel and coal exporters.

Yet, we are baffled by a statement attributed to Secretary Almendras where he seemed to express a wish that there would be no additional investors in renewable energy.

The article quoted the energy as saying that “maybe, once the feed-in tariff has been finalized, not too many developers would be interested to pursue their (renewable energy) projects”.

Is that a wish? We hope not. If that were so, that would be a major inconsistency on the part of the energy chief.

We hope Secretary Almendras would consider the fact that what seemed to be ambiguous statements on renewable energy are being exploited by adversarial business interests. What the President’s renewable energy vision and policy need is a statement of strong, unequivocal support from the person who is tasked to implement it—Secretary Almendras himself.

Let’s face it, Secretary Almendras is confronted by a strong lobby against the President’s renewable energy policy. This is inevitable. The entry of renewable energy-sourced power into our grid lines and onto our homes and industries would displace other power sources, particularly imported and expensive fossil fuel and coal.

Their looming displacement in the scheme of electric power sourcing in this country means potential loss of major revenues. It is expected that they would not take the losses lightly. They would fight the policy and use fronts to wage the battle for them.

So, we should expect a major demolition job against the President’s renewable energy policy. And if we were in the position of the nemeses of this policy, we would adopt the same tactic—weaken the resolve of the policy implementors.

If they succeed in doing so, the real losers would be us. And our environment. And our economy. And the future of power generation in this country.

But the biggest loser would be the President.

If his policy implementors buckle under the pressure that would be a big blow to his efforts to provide the country with sufficient and sustainable clean power supply.

And if history is to be considered, we have a sitting President who would not want to have another power crisis in his hands.

A clear, unequivocal statement of support from the chief policy implementor would go a long way in preventing a repeat of history we all do not want. 

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