THE Philippines has failed to free itself from its reliance on imported fuel nearly 10 years after the passage of a law that is supposed to support the growth of renewable energy (RE).
This is the view of RE advocates, including Senator Loren B. Legarda, who point to the continuing dominance of coal in the country’s energy mix even after the signing of Republic Act No. 9513 or the Renewable Energy Act of 2008.
“While many initially thought that the adoption of the RE law in December 2008 represented a firm and decisive policy position on the country’s shift to cleaner and indigenous forms of energy, stakeholders, to date, continue to grapple with mixed signals from those charged with implementing the RE law,” Ms. Legarda told participants at a forum on renewable energy ahead of the 10th anniversary of the law.
She said the country cannot claim energy independence for as long as it relies on imported fuel, unless it is willing to embrace the reality that renewable energy is a global phenomenon that is beginning to replace coal and fossil fuels as a cheaper fuel source.
The RE law promotes the development, utilization and commercialization of renewable energy resources in the country. Ms. Legarda is one of the authors of the law.
“Having laid down the state of RE development in our country, I hope that this symposium will help surface issues that has brought us to the situation we are in now,” Ms. Legarda said during the forum, “Convergence for 100% Renewable Energy in the Philippines,” in Quezon City on Wednesday.
She said the Department of Energy (DoE) more than 10 years ago ramped up its campaign for the adoption of an RE law after the rise of crude oil prices, which in 2007 peaked at $147 per barrel.
“It believed then, and hopefully, up to now, that promoting the exploration, development, utilization and commercialization of indigenous energy resources is a necessary and essential step toward achieving the country’s energy independence agenda,” she said.
Ms. Legarda said it had taken 18 years for the law to be passed, after extended debates on the policy mechanisms included in the measure.
“It was hard then, but even more so now, to convince naysayers on the importance of renewable energy in the country’s development agenda,” she said.
“To date, those charged with implementing these policy mechanisms seem to want to continue the debate on matters decided upon by legislators ten years ago,” she added.
In 2005, she said the country’s energy independence agenda had aimed to increase self-sufficiency from 56.6% at that time to 60% in 2010. But today, she said that number had even slipped to 55%.
“This scenario could be quite disturbing if you know that in 2009, our energy self-sufficiency level was already at 59.5%,” she said.
From 2005 to 2016, the country’s installed capacity increased only by an average of 157 megawatts (MW) per year — from 5,226 MW in 2005 to 6,958 MW in 2016.
“This meant a paltry 3% increase every year for 11 years. These figures present one glaring fact: we miserably failed in meeting our goal of doubling the installed capacity of RE,” she said.
She said that while the RE law aimed to cut the volume of coal importation, the country ended up importing more — at an annual average of 12.8% from 1989 to 2015.
“Between 2015 and 2016, the volume of coal imports was even higher by 16% from 17.3 metric tons to 20 metric tons,” she said.
Installed capacities of coal-fired power plants climbed by 87% to 7,419 MW in 2016 from 3,967 MW in 2005. In the pipeline is another 10,423 MW of these plants, she noted.
“This coal-dependent strategy creates stranded assets, and consequently, stranded costs that our consumers will ultimately have to bear,” she said.
RE’s share in the power mix as of 2016, on the other hand, declined to 32% from 33.5% in 2005, while that of coal surged from 25% in 2005 to 35% in 2016, she said.
Sought for comment, Energy Undersecretary Felix William B. Fuentebella said the DoE has been introducing regulations that support the growth of renewable energy, and more policies are set to be released within the year.
He said the department is set to issue a policy on “green energy options,” which allows customers to opt to be supplied with power sourced from renewable energy, and a policy on renewable portfolio standards, or RPS, for off-grid areas.
RPS is market-based policy that requires distribution utilities and other industry participants to source a portion of their power supply from eligible renewable energy resources. A policy covering on-grid areas has already been issued.
“We have a project on creating renewable energy zones,” he said, adding that a separate project will identify where the country’s energy resources are located.
He said these projects would help determine how much the country’s power system could accommodate the intermittency that comes with some RE resources such as solar, while determining the eventual share of RE in the energy mix. — Victor V. Saulon