Akbayan Confronts Secretary Almendras over DOE’s Commitment to Coal
A sharp exchange between Akbayan Representative Walden Bello and Department of Energy Secretary Rene Almendras marked a pre-plenary budget hearing on Sept. 7.
DOE Still behind Aboitiz Coal-fired Plant
The bone of contention was the administration’s position on coal-fired power plants. Bello asked Almendras if the DOE was still supporting the construction of a coal-powered energy plant by the Aboitiz group of companies in Subic given what he characterized as the “overwhelming rejection of the proposed Aboitiz coal-powered plant by the citizens of Subic, Olongapo, and Zambales.” Almendras did not answer the question directly but pointed to what he alleged was a need for additional base load generation capability due to an impending electricity shortfall in Luzon of 600MW in 2013 and 2014, and 700MW in 2015.
Coal, the energy secretary continued, was currently the cheapest energy option.
Bello countered that the DOE was myopic in considering only financial cost and ignoring the well-known negative environmental impacts of coal, which not only has damaging effects on the environment and public health but is also worse than oil in terms of its contribution to global warming.
“Coal is dirty,” said Bello, “and the costs in terms of environmental degradation and the toll on public health will outweigh the alleged financial benefits.”
Push for Coal Undermines Renewable Energy Act
Moreover, the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 (RA 9513), according to Bello, “mandates the government to move from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.” The reliance on coal-powered plants that the DOE is promoting is undermining the law, said the Akbayan congressman.The Renewable Energy Act seeks to improve the exploration and development of solar, biomass, wind, hydro, geothermal, tidal and other renewable sources of energy.
Almendras denied, however, that the push for coal in the short term was moving the country away from the intent of the Renewable Energy Act. He said that in renewable energy sources now make up over 55 per cent of the total energy mix. “I think the Renewable Energy Act is a good law,” said the DOE Secretary, claiming that there are now “implementable renewable energy technologies.”
Bello countered by asking the secretary to provide him with a detailed program showing how the DOE was moving the country’s energy mix from fossil fuels to renewables.
Bello Questions Almendras’ Loyalties
At one point, Bello brought up the DOE secretary’s previous employment with Aboitiz corporate group, the main promoter of the coal option in the country.
“How can we be sure that your previous association with Aboitiz is not affecting your decisions?,” asked Bello.
Almendras denied being influenced by Aboitiz, saying his decisions were guided solely by the “national interest.”
Bello said, however, that his question regarding Almendras’ loyalties was a “legitimate” one: “I have to make this question explicit with all administration appointees who come from the private sector. I did the same thing with Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Gary Domingo, asking him if his opposition to workers’ security of tenure might not be related to his having been executive director of SM Investments, one of the worst abusers of contractualization.”
Disciplining the Oil Giants
Earlier in the hearing, the Akbayan representative also said the constant changes in the price of oil were tormenting consumers and making it very difficult for consumers and industries to doing any planning. “While consumers and industries suffer, the oil giants are making tremendous profits,” Bello asserted.
Almendras agreed, saying that, despite volatile price of oil, the big three oil companies, Petron, Shell, and Caltex, have maintained profit margins between 1-3% over the last couple of years, and have “never been in the red” except in 2008.
This prompted Bello to ask whether or not the DOE considers price controls. Almendras said that while the DOE preferred to deal with the oil problem via subsidies to the consumer, he was open to changes in the Oil Deregulation Law that Congress might deem fit to make.
According to Bello, if genuine, the Energy secretary’s commitments to such reforms “will be instrumental in crafting Philippine energy policies that will be beneficial for ordinary Filipino consumers rather than the energy giants.”###
Sabrina Laya S. Gacad
Senior Legislative and Media Officer
Office of Hon. WALDEN F. BELLO
AKBAYAN Party-list Representative
House of Representatives
Quezon City, Philippines
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