Groups vow to block Aboitiz plan on coal plant expansion

Jan. 26, 2014

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY — A power company here wants the “favorable endorsement” of the Davao City Council as it plans to increase the generating capacity of its coal-fired power plant but members of civil society vowed to block this plan saying they were not convinced of the environmental protection and safeguard to health.

Aboitiz Power Corporation sought the endorsement of the Council in December last year. The joint committee hearings were conducted by the Council committees on energy, environment and natural resources, rules, priviliges, laws and ordinances, franchises and public utilities and housing and rural and urban development.

The Aboitiz Power Corporation wants to increase the generating capacity of its coal-fired power plant which is located in the largely fishing community of Barangay Binugao, in Toril, Davao City. The multibillion-peso plant originally has a 300-megawatt generating capacity but the company wants to have it increased to 645 megawatts.

The plant is operated by Therma South Inc., a power generation subsidiary of Aboitiz Power which owns various power generation and distribution facilities all over the country.

“Right from the start we are against it as they do not have a strong basis that it will not pollute the waters, the air and the health status of the people.  Now, they will more than double it and we are still hearing the same arguments,” said Dr. Jean Lindo, a convenor of the NO TO COAL! Davao coalition.

Lindo said that as the company is at its construction phase, the residents of Binugao already complained against the dust and the 24-hour noise the construction generates.

Chinkee Pelino-Golle of the Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) said they have not received a response from the Environmental Management Bureau on their request to have a copy of the Environmental Impact Assessment of the original plant which supposedly included the comprehensive hydrology study or the impact of the plant on the water systems.

“I think one of the conditions in the ordinance, but we don’t have a copy, is that you committed to use only the excess water and to utilize the salt water. Would that still be the case? Because this is already 645 megawatts,” asked Pelino-Golle.

Alexand Ual, also from the Aboitiz group claimed that they have found a spring that would be “more than enough” to supply the plant including the expansion.

“We have been studying the spring for more than one year and we found out that these would be more than enough to supply the minimum requirements of the 3rd and 4th Unit (345MW expansion),” said Ual.

Ual said that they would use only a minimal amount of fresh water since they would use sea water for the cooling of the plant. But Golle said that the company should present the hydrology study during the next hearings of the committees.

Golle said that there might be adjustments to the water requirements of the plant from the current 1,500 cubic meters per day which it currently needs since the expansion would be more than twice the original.

“This is how they do things,” said Lindo. “First, they tell us that will be building a desalinization plant and not use fresh water, but not they are saying different things. They first said that they will not drill, but how can we say that will not happen,” she added.

AboitizPower Corporation’s First Vice President for Mindanao Affaiirs Manuel Orig said  they will “abide” by the requirements of the City Council that they will “only use fresh water and not ground water” for the plant’s cooling.

“If by our expansion, the available surface water will not be enough, then the option will be to use fresh water from desalinization. But we are trying to avoid that situation as much as possible because it will require additional investment and it will impact rates,” said Orig.

With regards to the ash of the stored coal and the ash that is the by-product of burning coal, Orig said they have facilities “enough to accommodate and have provisions to add for the expansion.”

Orig said they have a coal dome for storage of coal and a 6-hectare ash pond for the by-product. “The ash will be hauled on a daily basis and sold to cement plants,” Orig said

Melot Balisalisa of Mincode, a non-government organization worker, said she could not believe that the Philippines already has the technology to ensure that a coal-fired power plant will not cause “harm.”

“While listening to the discussion, I can say that it seems our scientists are better than those in developed countries because we can assure of the safety from hazards of the coal-fired power plant,” said Balisalisa.

Balisalisa said she was not in the city during the debates on the approval of the plant but she was in Colombia University to attend a seminar on sustainable development.

“There is a company in the state Tennessee in the US which coal containment wall collapsed and it was found out that they have no safety plan at all. So one question would be is there such a plan here. If such happen, how much will the Aboitiz earmark? Because there (Tennessee) they spent billions,” said Balisalisa.

AboitizPower said they earmarked about P5 million if such an incident happen and that they have precautionary measures and in fact have “more advanced” technology than developed countries.

“Let’s see,” says Balisala in disbelief.

Meanwhile Orig said that AboitizPower could “guarantee that the plant we are going to build will not harm people or the environment.”

Eliza Madrazo, chief of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office said that it was her first time to join such discussion. She said they will still have to conduct a “deeper study on the matter.”

David Palma Gil of the City Health Office said they stand on monitoring the project for health risks and ill effects and added that they were always updated on the health and safety of the workplace and the nearby residents.

Engr. Oscar dela Cruz of the engineering department of the Davao City Water District said that they have no objections as to the expansion of the plant as long as they stick to their pronouncement that they (AboitizPower) will not drill wells.

Although it is the first time that Davao City’s third district Councilor Mary JoselleVillafuerte has attended a discussion on the coal-fired power plant, she said that “based on what is said” in the hearing, “there is overwhelming evidence that there is a danger to coal.”

“Does AboitizPower has any plans to someday go into renewable?” asked Villafuerte.

Orig answered that AboitizPower is in fact the largest private company to invest in renewable energy as it owns many hydro power plants. But he said that renewable energy sources “are not enough.”

“We believe that the rate will be reasonable and acceptable and a reliable power supply,” he said.

Councilor Victorio U. Advincula, Jr. also of the third district said that the hearing will not be the last time to discuss on the matter but he believes that coal has “harmful effects.”

“I do believe that there are really harmful effects. I would like to be re-assured that the company will be doing its best to mitigate it,” he said.

Advincula said that he also believed that there has to be “comprises” with regards to the power situation that is why they (City Council) approved the original plan.

“However, this is also another matter if an expansion is being asked.

Although, the arguments being presented now is the same cycled arguments, without malice, as to really the hazards of the coal plant. There are really hazards of course that we are asking about the studies,” he said.

Advincula initially asked the AboitizPower group if expanding to 1000MW is a possibility but the group has and to tell the Council what is the “maxed out” capacity of the area.

Councilor Danilo Dayanghirang, chair of the committee on environment and natural resources, said he wants all discussions to end in a month.

“We have to discuss the problems and to discuss again if necessary. I will come up with my own committee report but as a matter of consequences I presume that we have to double the mitigation,” he said.

But for William Recto, a youth volunteer who called the technical explanations of the AboitizPower as “meaningless political jargon,” one only have to “check-up the internet at this moment” to see the opposition of communities to coal.

“People of these communities resisted it is harmful, are they delusional? They have abandoned coal power because it has caused them hard. If you are in denial of this you have a psychological problem,” said Recto. (John Rizle L. Saligumba/

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