Renewable energy vs coal and diesel | Inquirer Opinion
As I See It

Renewable energy vs coal and diesel

/ 10:24 PM February 23, 2012

The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) will increase power rates, again, this month. The excuse: Power generation costs have increased because of the rising price of oil. What is the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB) doing? Nothing. Why is it called thus in the first place if it cannot regulate anything?

The whole world is really at the mercy of the oil-producing countries. The oil cartel, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), from which most of the world buy their oil, can raise its prices at will. When oil production becomes too much so that there is a glut, Opec members agree among themselves to reduce production so that world prices won’t go down. And even when there is no glut, Opec can, at whim, raise its prices—and there is nothing the rest of the world can do. You need oil? You pay through the nose.


Then there is the impending threat of the oil under the sands of the Middle East being exhausted. Oil is a finite resource; it will run out sooner or later. That is why it is imperative, now, for the whole world to find alternative sources of energy.

Most of the developed countries have resorted to nuclear power but, as we have seen in Japan and Russia, it presents risks.


Other countries like the Philippines have tapped hydropower, steam, wind power and solar energy. But as of now these are very expensive to harness and, except for solar power, are also limited. Furthermore, these are not, as of now, in liquid form like gasoline and diesel, which are needed by the millions of vehicles that make commerce run.

The answer is to get that fuel from alternative sources from agriculture. Crops are renewable. After you harvest a crop, you plant again and soon have a new crop to harvest.

There are plenty of plants that yield alternative fuel. Sugarcane produces alcogas; coconut, peanuts and other nuts produce coco diesel; corn, rice, wheat and barley also produce alcohol. Soybean is also a source of oil, and the previously useless plant we call “tuba-tuba” has been discovered to produce fuel oil.

Unfortunately, turning huge amounts of wheat, rice, barley, soybean, and nuts into fuel will eat into the food supply of the world. Furthermore, processing these into fuel is still more costly than importing oil. That is why most countries have not devoted much energy and resources to research to produce alternative fuel. But the time will come when Opec will price itself out of the market as the world finds out that it would be more economical to produce alternative fuel rather than pay through the nose for imported oil.

Then what will happen to the members of Opec when their oil runs out? They will be forced to import alternative fuel from tropical countries like the Philippines whom they formerly victimized. Then it will be the turn of these tropical countries to make them pay through the nose. Poetic justice.

Right now, there is another source of fuel to run power generation plants: coal. But coal is dirty. Its emissions pollute the environment, kill plants and trees, and poison humans and animals. Also, the supply of coal is finite. Sooner or later, the world’s coal supplies will run out.

So we have to turn to solar power, which is not only plentiful, especially in the tropics, but also free. But harnessing the sun’s energy is, as of now, still very expensive.


Then there is hydrogen power, which is plentiful in the waters of the oceans and also free. But as of now, man still has not been able to achieve the breakthrough to harness it. Also, like nuclear power, hydrogen power can be dangerous.

That is why it is even more imperative to find and develop renewable sources of energy now. And that is why I don’t understand why a group calling itself the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) is throwing a monkey wrench into our efforts to find renewable sources of energy.

The FEF has emerged as the most vocal foe of the Aquino administration’s efforts to bring renewable power sources into the electricity supply mix. The foundation has so far succeeded in slowing down the approval process for renewable power sources and has lately gone to court to stop the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) from concluding its hearings.

The FEF’s main beef against renewable power sources is that there would be no bidding process for them. This is a surprising argument because the supply of power from coal plants is not bid out. The purchase of power from coal plants is purely a bilateral deal between the coal plants and the distribution facilities.

The foundation also argues that renewable power is expensive. The question of course is whether or not coal is cheap.

Also, once the ERC approves the rates for renewable power, those rates will be pegged for the next 20 years. No such lock-in scheme for coal and diesel. The latter are hostage to prices in the international market.

The way it looks, this is a war being waged by coal interests against renewable energy. Killing competition is a normal business practice. But the coal interests should come out in the open and not hide behind some shady group.

The collateral damage in this fight is the Aquino administration’s energy policy. President Aquino wants greater use of renewable power so we are not hostage to oil cartels. Coal and diesel are almost totally imported and

P-Noy wants less import dependence. And no matter what they say about “clean coal” (there is no such thing), the net effect of P-Noy’s renewable energy policy is a boost to the Philippines’ economic freedom.

Your daily dose of fearless views

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TAGS: coal, energy sector, featured column, FEF, opec, opinion, power generation, solar power
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