If the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP) is approved by Congress, fuel prices are expected to increase: diesel by P5.00 per liter, and gasoline by P9.00 per liter by 2018.
This could herald the Philippines' own clean energy revolution—if alternative and renewable energy sources are readily available for this to happen, said an environmentalist.
“If the government increases the cost of living without making sure that [renewable] alternatives are there, it won’t be good,” Gina Lopez said via phone patch interview during her term as Environment Secretary.
Would a pivot to renewable energy be enough to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and lower energy costs in the Philippines?
‘Coal still in the running’
A study by the Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Government reports that coal is still the most dominant power technology in the country.
Unlike geothermal energy—which is renewable but in limited supply because it is purely indigenous, site-specific, and cannot be imported—coal is both indigenous and can be readily imported from other countries.
According to the Ateneo-led study, coal-fired power plants (CFPPs) play a huge role in fulfilling the country’s baseload energy requirements.
"Baseload" refers to the minimum level of electricity demand in a day. Baseload power plants are plants that run continuously over extended periods of time. A CFPP is one example of a baseload power plant.
At present the DOE plans to build 40 new CFPPs all over the country. With these new structures up and running along with the current CFPPs, the Philippines will exceed its baseload requirement by 2030, the study says.
However, once this happens, CFPPs will reach their peak requirements. They will soon become less competitive and more expensive. By simply switching them "on and off," operators will have already incurred huge costs.
Furthermore, while coal may be the economically cheapest option at present, its impacts on the environment are manifold.
A 2011 study by the World Bank reports that the external costs of coal include health impacts, water pollution and climate pollution. If all these are taken into account, CFPPs would become one of the most expensive forms of electricity generation.
“What keeps us reliant on ancient energy systems like coal energy and oil are their temptingly low prices and easy plant construction,” said Beatrice Adeline Tulagan, policy research and advocacy director at The Climate Reality Project Philippines.
Renewable energy plants have the potential to become viable baseload energy sources. According to Tulagan, the cheapest energy source in the Philippines is geothermal energy, which comprises 13% of the country's energy mix.
However, she added, imposing higher excise taxes on oil and coal products may not be enough to encourage people to use alternative energy sources.
“It must be combined with a strategic information campaign about the fossil fuel industry’s failing economic prowess, as well as its impacts on climate change,” she said.
Vinod Thomas, the former director-general of Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank, says that carbon taxes are a win-win strategy, for economists.
In his book Climate Change and Natural Disasters, Thomas said that carbon taxes pave the way for cleaner air, lower deficits, drive-clean technology, and the scrapping of fossil fuel subsidies.
On the status of renewable energy in Asian developing countries, Thomas says that political ambivalence, government austerity and shale gas industries could slow investments.
On the bright side, Asia’s private sector has much potential in promoting sustainable lifestyles; and in supplying affordable solar and wind energy to citizens.
Some industries and several companies are turning to renewable energy—usually solar, given the Philippines’ geographical location.
The Mind Museum in Bonifacio Global City, for instance, features a water recycling facility, solar-assisted air conditioners, solar panels, non-CFC HVAC systems, and energy-efficient lighting. It is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified museum in the Philippines.
In different parts of the country, various types of alternative fuel vehicles have flourished. The E-kot jeep, which can be found in the University of the Philippines' Diliman campus, is a 68-VM electric tricycle with a top speed of 50 kph on a fully-charged lithium battery.
Another is the SINAG, the first solar-powered car in the Philippines, built by students from De La Salle University.
The most notable alternative fuel vehicle might be a solar-powered bus in Baguio. A project funded by Glad to be Green (G2BG), the Green Bus relies solely on the power of the sun as it goes around the city.
Slowly but surely, the Philippines is moving on from CFPPs to renewable alternatives. But much remains to be done as climate change looms over the country. — TJD/BM, GMA News