To grant or not to grant is not the question
The squabbling in Congress over the grant of emergency powers to President Aquino ostensibly so he can resolve a much-ballyhooed power shortage in 2015 is a false debate, inasmuch that it misses the mark on the real emergency that now confronts our collective future.
Given the dire scientific projections associated with ever-increasing carbon emissions and the prognosis that the Philippines is one of those countries at greatest risk to the impacts of climate change, it is imperative that energy solutions take into account approaches that enhance resilience and the goal of taking a less carbon-intensive pathway.
The supposed energy crisis is not a real crisis. It is a manufactured crisis. The executive branch is seeking emergency powers to allow it to purchase power via the fossil-fueled Interruptible Load Program and presumably to hasten the construction of more coal-fired power plants. From a climate emergency perspective, these are the wrong solutions.
The real and lasting solutions are simple, and they are win/win for nearly all parties involved. They involve the cost-effective, efficient and smart promotion of renewable energy and energy-efficiency measures.
For instance, aside from the faithful and aggressive implementation of the Renewable Energy Act, the government can develop or instigate a nationwide program for the financing of rooftop solar installations. Solar power is already achieving grid parity in the Philippines, and this is the good news. One obstacle, however, is financing. While more and more people are willing to embrace clean and renewable energy sources, they lack the financial capacity to enable that switch.
Some companies have started to provide a variety of financing options. But if we leave it to a handful of players, it will be a case of too little, too late. To facilitate and amplify this type of program, we need an appropriate, well-crafted and multifaceted loan program, whose seed funding may perhaps be taken from the Malampaya Fund.
Many financing and loan programs exist around the world and can serve as useful models for the Philippines. A good loan program will serve as incentive to millions of Filipino households to set up their own solar panels. Combined with a proper net metering law, which will allow people to sell energy from their solar power to the grid (and not just buy from the grid), a loan program can trigger a solar revolution, without us having to build a single power plant.
This will be the equivalent of building one to two power plants, but without the tremendous costs and externalities involved.
The second solution is passing and enforcing a robust law on energy efficiency. Energy specialists and scientists have proven that energy efficiency is the single cheapest, simplest and best way to handle the increasing demand for electricity. According to a recent report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, “each dollar invested in electric energy efficiency measures yields $1.24 to $4.00 in total benefits for all customers, which include avoided energy and capacity costs, lower energy costs during peak demand periods like heat waves, avoided costs from building new power lines, and reduced pollution.”
Generating the same amount of electricity from fossil fuels can cost twice or thrice as much. Lighting, appliances, retrofitting homes, and other energy-efficiency measures such as a green building code for new edifices, will go a long way to solving projected power outages. For example, replacing light bulbs has decreased electricity demand for only $.025/watt in the United States. Moreover, energy-efficient appliances do not translate to expensive appliances: Refrigerators today cost 50 percent less and yet consume 75 percent less power than they did 40 years ago. Energy efficiency is just as important for buildings as for appliances: Insulation is one of the most cost-effective ways to save energy and upgrade homes, with a rapid payoff.
In stark contrast to these approaches is the pathway to greater reliance on dirty, expensive and climate-changing fossil fuels, particularly coal. It is an approach that has mostly benefited big, corporate power producers and distributors, to the detriment of Filipinos who are already reeling from skyrocketing electricity costs, as well as pollution and calamitous climate impacts.
Giving President Aquino emergency powers so that we can deepen our dependence on this disastrous pathway is exactly the wrong answer to the real crisis that Filipinos face.
Von Hernandez and Etelle Higonnet are the executive director and regional research manager, respectively, of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
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