S. Cotabato’s prohibition on open-pit mine method worries Energy department

Posted on March 28, 2011

THE BAN on open-pit mining in South Cotabato, expected to be implemented soon after the implementing rules of the ordinance concerned was signed on Thursday last week, may have an impact beyond this sector, a Cabinet official said late last week.

Specifically, it may hinder even efforts to improve Mindanao’s power supply, Energy Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras told reporters.

"The mining ban is one of my problems. I went there to talk to the local government and other stakeholders," he said.

He noted that plans for a "750-megawatt" plant in the province could be affected if the coal it requires would be extracted using the strip method, which is considered open-pit mining.

"I told them (South Cotabato officials) as far as we are concerned, we would really like to see this project push through and I hope they would reconsider," Mr. Almendras recalled.

"We even offered the model for mine-to-mouth coal mines in Isabela which is where the oppositors [sic] themselves will sit in the compliance review board."

The so-called "mine mouth" arrangement involves placing coal extracted from the mine on a conveyor belt that feeds into the power plant.

"I will explain again and try to appeal again," Mr. Almendras added.

While he did not identify the project concerned, one of the companies that could be affected by the ban is San Miguel Corp., which plans to build a 740-MW mine mouth power plant in South Cotabato.

Asked how the impending enforcement of the ban in South Cotabato could affect his company’s power plans in the province, San Miguel President Ramon S. Ang said via text only that it "will still build in South Cotabato."

San Miguel bought in May last year three coal miners operating in Mindanao: Bonanza Energy Resources, Inc., Sultan Mining and Energy Development Corp. and Daguma Coal and Agro Industrial, Inc. Daguma has reserves that stretch from Sultan Kudarat to South Cotabato.

The power plants that will feed on the coal from these mines are estimated to deliver at least 1,200 megawatts to the Mindanao grid.

Both the government and the business sector in Mindanao have cited the need to diversify the entire island’s sources of electricity.

A drought that lasted the entire first half of 2010 had left dry the dams that drive the hydroelectric plants that provide more than half of Mindanao’s power supply.

That, in turn, resulted in outages that lasted up to eight hours in some parts of the island. -- E. N. J. David