More ‘milestones’ needed
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - October 23, 2019 - 12:00am

ROME – By the time this comes out, we would already be back in Manila after 14 hours of flight from here, excluding four hours of lay-over via Abu Dhabi. It was almost a week-long stay in Italy but it felt like we did not leave the Philippines. Simply because of the many overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) living and working here in Rome and all over Italy who we bump into every now and then.

Of course, the best advantage of our OFWs here is they also speak English and even the Italian language as well. Our daily commute here was a welcome respite though from the long hours of vehicle traffic in Metro Manila. This we noticed in going to and fro the venue during the three-day 2019 “Global Experts Meeting on the Frontiers in Green Energy and Expo” held at the city outskirts.

Instead of vehicle traffic, it is human traffic of hordes of foreign tourists and Italians walking down the streets, with their families and friends and baby strollers in tow. And lots of dogs of various breeds, either in leash or strutting beside their humans, enjoying the walk on the cobblestone roads of Rome.           

This was certainly not my first time to travel to Rome. But the capital city has become palpably more safe for tourists than ever before when we had heard incidents of fellow travelers who became victims of petty thieveries. At every major road along tourist spots, the presence of uniformed carabinieri (local police) to heavily armed Esercito (Army) men and women are obviously the best deterrence to thieves and other criminals and even from potential terror attacks.

Parking lots here have solar panel roofs to generate electricity to a nearby building, the excess supply of which they sell to the grid. This is just one of the many transformations to the “sustainable” way of living here that closely hews to the commitment of the Italian government, along with the rest of European Union member-states on the climate change agreement against global warming. 

“The increasing urbanization and climate change scenarios are one of the major challenges faced by the international community. The current patterns of urban mobility contribute a lot to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels,” cited Janaina Camile Pasqual Lofhagen from the pontifical Catholic University of Parana in Brazil during our conference here. 

“This concern has forced the energy sector to search for alternative sources in order to generate enough energy and preserve the environment at the same time. Unfortunately, some technologies for green energy use remains very expensive or unable to satisfy the world’s need for energy, or both,” Lofhagen noted.

This precisely describes the situation of developing countries like the Philippines as one of the signatory-nations to the climate change agreement of Paris. It is this situation in which President Rodrigo Duterte is trying to steer the country to comply with this international agreement signed by his immediate predecessor.                

This is, of course, in reference to the “zero emission” target set forth in the Conference of Parties (COP) that was spearheaded by the United Nations (UN) and was signed in Paris, France in 2015. Under the COP, the Philippines is bound by the global commitments to reduce carbon emissions by the year 2050. 

In fairness, the former Davao City Mayor has taken a stand during the May, 2016 presidential debate to keep an open mind about having no choice on climate change challenges amid the country’s continuing reliance on coal power generation. Since he assumed office, in fact, President Duterte has inaugurated coal-fired power plants that generate more than 1,000 megawatts (MW) in a bid to provide more than enough capacity to meet the energy requirements of a growing economy of the Philippines. 

Just last week, President Duterte led the ceremonial switch-on of the San Buenaventura Power Ltd. (SBPL) – a P56.2-billion supercritical coal-power plant billed as the first of its kind in the Philippines. The SBPL told the President their power plant uses high efficiency, low emission coal technology that allows it to operate at increasingly high temperatures and pressures to reach higher efficiencies while significantly reducing harmful emissions.

Similar coal plant technologies have been the choice for new commercial coal-fired plants reportedly in many countries around the world. Pioneering the technology in the Philippines, SBPL sets the bar higher in operating coal plants in the country. The SBPL is a limited partnership between Meralco PowerGen (MGen), Meralco’s power generation arm, and New Growth BV of Thailand.

In June last year, the President ceremonially inaugurated a new 430-MW coal-fired power plant in Pagbilao, Quezon. In November 2016, the Chief Executive led the formal inauguration of the P14-billion coal-fired power plant in Concepcion town, Iloilo at rites held at Malacañang. The 135-MW baseload power plant is fueled by imported coal. 

Company officials reported to the President that the new coal power plant uses Circulating Fluidized Bed Combustion (CFBC) which they claim is the latest in clean coal technology.  It is also supposedly equipped with an electrostatic precipitator (ESP), a filtration device that removes over 99% of ash particles, they added. At present, it is now delivering electricity to its customers in Visayas.

In August this year, President Duterte inaugurated the 7.5-MW Tumingad solar power project in Odiongan, Tablas Island in Romblon.   

The President, in his speech, lauded the importance of providing more households electricity but at the same time reducing carbon footprint. 

While this solar power plant capacity is small, the President branded it as a “milestone” in the use of renewable energy (RE) since it causes less devastation to the environment. Such “milestones” need to be supported and policy infrastructures to encourage more environment-friendly power sources.

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