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Opinion

‘Now! Not later!’

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

The statement “You cannot give what you do not have” will probably be quoted in the Senate and in the House of Representatives in the Summer of ’22, as in 2022 when people in Metro Manila start screaming because of power failures, blackouts and water shortages.

If only to illuminate the unaware, the National Water Resources Board has been announcing to whoever would listen that the water level in our dams, particularly Angat Dam, has been receding at an abnormal rate relative to the absence of rain over those dams. Almost like bad news “riding in tandem,” Indonesia announced that the government will ban the export of coal to other coal-dependent countries because Indonesia is also concerned about maintaining its own stock for their power plants. That bit of news was evidently very alarming and disturbing for the Philippines, so much so that no less than the Foreign Affairs Secretary issued an appeal to the Indonesian government to reconsider its announcement, given the impact it would have on the power supply of countries such as the Philippines which relies on coal-powered generators for 60 percent of its needs.

The tandem bad news of water shortage and coal shortage would certainly be a bad start for the new administration that will be voted into office by June 2022. But that unfortunately is the least of our concerns. As the column title suggests; we need to do something NOW and NOT LATER. I’ve read about Department of Energy or DOE sending out instructions or statements to power producers etc. to work on improving their efficiency and to advance maintenance schedules ahead of the projected period of shortages. Unbeknownst to many, the current level of power generated in the country leaves very little in terms of extra or surplus. The minute everybody switches on all their equipment and air conditioners in the summer of ’22, we will instantaneously hear YELLOW ALERT if not RED ALERT status for electricity.

Telling power producers and providers to increase or improve their efficiency and not to schedule maintenance during summer may sound like an effort on the part of DOE, but “all talk” and too much politicking achieves nothing when you have nothing to give. What will power producers run their coal generators on, saliva? Looking back at past and current history of DOE remedies, it almost looks like the “remedyo” will once again be the purchase or rental of bunker or diesel fueled power barges based on “take or pay” terms that Filipino taxpayers and consumers will be paying for through the nose. Other than that, every Filipino would be better advised to start planning for the eventuality of power shortages and water shortage.

To the credit of the Water Resources Board, they have been regularly giving interviews and updates and advising people to start preparing for when water rationing becomes a “No Choice” situation. The question is why not start doing public information campaign about how to reduce water and electric consumption NOW? Education and awareness have been powerful tools n the past. If that does not work, rationing may be less effective than increasing the price of water. The fact of the matter is that people will always cry out allegedly in the interest of the “poor” but a close look at the so-called poor shows that they too buy expensive bottled water as well as non-essential goods and products. Look at electricity, because electricity can cost you so much money when you don’t manage your consumption, consumers are more mindful about power conservation and lowering their electric bill. I hate the idea, but it works efficiently!

Aside from information and education, the government should do everything to equip or empower not just the business sector, but consumers in terms of self-sufficiency and solutions. I often talk or write about solar power kits, equipment and solutions at the residential or personalized level in this column and on our program AGENDA on Cignal TV. Last time I wrote about solar power was when I suggested using solar-powered street lighting for homes of informal settlers and far flung areas where fire and distance are the principal challenges. With a little ingenuity you could use solar-powered lights inside homes, run solar-powered fans, solar-powered chargers for phones, iPad, laptops and tablets.

Unfortunately, this has not been on anybody’s primary agenda or priority. I have not heard of any party-list group talk about it, no legislator has dedicated him or herself to making renewable and alternative technology affordable and tax free for ordinary Filipinos. Like I said before, solar-powered gadgets, appliances and domestic model equipment should be declared tax-free by the national government since the government cannot meet or sustain the demand for power and the cost of electricity is a major expense that reduces the monetary reserves of a household.

If the DOST and the TESDA really want to change lives, they should get together in a project study to figure out what combination of gadgets, appliances and equipment can be put together in a kit that would provide power to the poor and marginalized as well as to those living in provinces while also reducing the load on our very thin power reserves. Once such a “kit” or set-up is tested and proven, the next step is to work out financing with banks or government agencies such as the DTI to develop a lease-to-own program or a business model where entrepreneurs can put up such businesses nationwide.

The experts can all talk about scale, about industries, etc., but it was not long ago when industries in the Philippines nearly shut down because of power shortages. They were all forced to set up their “back-up generators and mini power plants” and go off grid in order to reduce the demand. In the same manner, the government needs to admit that we can use all solutions and we need to use alternative resources by liberalizing the adoption of solar technology on a domestic scale.

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