Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Power firm expresses doubts over putting up coal plant in Catanduanes
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, March 10 (PNA) –- Bicol’s island province of Catanduanes may be rich in high-grade coal deposits but one of the country’s leading power industry players is entertaining doubts over the viability of putting up a coal-fired power plant in the area.

In a statement reaching here Monday, DMCI Power Corp. said it is not sure if a coal power plant is viable in providing the electricity needs of the province.

The statement came following a recent visit of a DMCI team in Catanduanes on invitation of the management of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative (Ficelco), which is exploring the possibility of putting up a local coal-fed power plant to meet the growing power demand in the next five years.

DMCI vice president Henry Alcalde, who led the team, said in the statement that the company -- which is currently the largest coal producer in the Philippines through its Semirara Mining Corp. that is engaged in the exploration, mining and development of coal resources Antique -- “sees no viable option” in a Catanduanes coal plant.

Thus, he assured that the company will look into the potential and current power demand in the island province before it entertains the idea of investing in a coal-fed power plant in the locality.

At present, Catanduanes’ power demand is around 6.1 megawatts (MWs) while the listed dependable capacity of the province’s power grid has been placed at 18 MWs, with the 11.4 MWs supplied by the NPC from its Balongbong Mini-Hydroelectric Power Plant, Marinawa and Viga diesel power plants, Power Barge 110 and Monark Rental Power.

This supply is being augmented by the two hydropower plants of Sunwest Water and Electricity Co. which have a combined capacity of 3.6 MWs.

The province has 45,000 power consumers being served by Ficelco.

Boosting this power supply capability is the ongoing rehabilitation and improvement of the province’s 69-kilovolt transmission line and substation which Pres. Benigno Aquino III has provided with an over P700-million fund late last year needed to facilitate the proper dispatch of local power plants.

Catanduanes is a rapidly-developing island province which the President has included in his administration’s countryside development as a tourism growth area and as the country’s top producer of abaca, a -million yearly export earner of the country.

Alcalde also dismissed speculations that DMCI is interested in mining coal in the province even as the Department of Energy has awarded a coal exploration permit to Altura Mining Philippines (AMP).

AMP is a local subsidiary of Australian-owned Altura Mining Limited which was successful in its bid last year for the Coal Operating Contract under the Philippine Energy Contracting Round 4.

AMP's mining operations, however, has been put on hold amid strong opposition from almost all sectors, including local government units, on grounds that it will adversely affect the environment and destroy the rich biodiversity of the province whose forest is considered as the last frontier of Bicol’s ecological balance.

Catandunganon, according to Rep. Cesar Sarmiento of the province’s lone congressional district, want their province to be a mining-free territory to become the only one in Bicol of such identity, thus, he filed a legislative measure which was approved by the Lower House to this effect.

House Bill No. 670, which Sarmiento authored, provides for the declaration of the province as a mining-free zone.

When this bill becomes a law, mining activities or the “extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth” in any part of the province shall be prohibited.

The prohibited mining activities shall include exploration, feasibility studies, development, utilization and processing, and large-scale quarry operations involving mineral like lime for cement manufacturing, coal, marble and granite.

Quarrying of gravel and sand is also included in proposed ban but not when it is for projects directly undertaken by national government agencies or the affected local government unit, provided it is within the provisions of existing mining and environment laws, the Sarmiento bill provides.

If in case, however, that DMCI would find it feasible to put up a coal plant in the province and given the opportunity, Alcalde said, it will use the Circulating Fluidized Bed or the so-called “clean coal” technology that limits emissions and cause no pollution. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/