The Philippines declares ‘no new coal plants’ but campaigners say it’s not enough

Following a reassessment of the country’s energy system, the Philippines declared a moratorium on new coal-fired plants. The move halts applications for new plants but doesn’t extend to previously approved projects already in the pipeline, a decision questioned by environmental organizations.

A Greenpeace protest against coal in the Philippines. Credit Greenpeace

“While we have initially embraced a technology-neutral policy, our periodic assessment of our country’s energy requirements is paving the way for innovative adaptations in our policy direction,” said Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi in a statement, previously questioned for not pursuing carbon-free power generation.

The government hasn’t yet identified the power plants that would be affected by the moratorium. But a network of anti-coal groups said in a statement that the ban would mean the cancellation of over 13GW of new coal plants. The move will help the government have a “more flexible” power supply mix, said Cusi.

As in other countries, coal is seen as a baseload energy resource in the Philippines, sufficiently cost-effective to provide a constant stream of power. It accounts for 44.5% of the total energy mix, with 28 coal-fired power plants operating throughout the country. This has long been questioned by environmental organizations.

The reliance on coal for electricity generation has led to regular power outages and increasing disruptions in the energy sector. The pandemic exacerbated the issue. Climate predictions of more frequent and intense extreme weather events such as typhoons also point to the need for a more flexible energy system.

“The decision is an admission of what we have long been saying about coal: that it is environmentally destructive, incompatible with climate goals, and unable to power our economy sustainably and reliably,” said in a statement Gerry Arances, executive director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED).

Before the new plan, the government had approved new 22 coal plants, which would increase coal’s share in the energy matrix to 53%. This goes against the Philippines’ decarbonization commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Still, these new plants will move forward as the ban only applies to proposed projects that haven’t yet been assessed and approved by the government. Coal projects that have been granted environmental compliance certificates and other permits from local governments in the areas where they’re based are also not included in the ban.

“The significance of the announcement will be ultimately judged by what the moratorium actually covers,” Lidy Nacpil from the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD), said in a statement. “The energy department must enforce a moratorium on all coal power developments, including all coal power projects in the pipeline.”

Looking ahead, the government hopes to grow renewables in the energy mix and reduce the high cost of electricity, taking advantage of the dropping costs of clean energy. They also want to encourage foreign investments in large scale geothermal projects, announcing more flexible rules on foreign ownership limits.

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