The reactor inside the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant — BW FILE PHOTO

THE Energy secretary said Tuesday that his department is not ruling out the use of nuclear power “as an option,” days after his officials announced that a survey firm has been tapped to examine Filipino attitudes on the energy source.

“We are pushing for nuclear as an option,” Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi told legislators during a hearing at the House of Representatives to discuss the department’s budget.

Mr. Cusi was responding to a question on the share of coal energy in the country’s generating capacity mix, for which he has been firm in saying that the department has a “technology-neutral” policy in approving applications to build new power plants.

During the hearing, he also said that the DoE will approve new coal-fired power plant projects if needed, despite the country’s pledge before the international community to reduce its greenhouse gas emission by 70% by 2030 relative to business-as-usual.

“If we need it, I will [approve]. If it’s not needed I won’t,” Mr. Cusi said, a response one legislator called “evasive.”

He said the country remains “poor” in energy security and accessibility, even as it leads in environmental sustainability.

“We have adopted this technology-neutral policy,” he told the panel.

He said coal still serves a purpose for the country’s baseload requirements, or the sustained 24/7 power supply. He added that emissions do not come mainly from power plants, citing the transport sector also as a contributor.

In 2018, of the country’s 21,241 megawatts of installed energy capacity, coal power plants accounted for 39%, followed by renewable energy with 31%.

Natural gas and oil-based plants trailed with a share of 16% and 14%, respectively.

Earlier this month, Energy officials said the DoE commissioned the Social Weather Stations polling organization to conduct a perception survey on nuclear energy, the result of which will be vetted by Cabinet secretaries ahead of its presentation to the Office of the President.

“We are undergoing assessment on what to do with Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, and we have submitted our proposed national policy to the Office of the President. We are waiting for that and once it is approved, we will be able to determine what to do,” Mr. Cusi told the panel.

The DoE is proposing a 2020 budget of P2.3 billion, of which P500 million will go to the government’s total electrification program in partnership with the National Electrification Administration and National Power Corp.

“Our budgetary request will support plans and programs that will help ensure the security of our country’s energy future, increase access to energy services and technologies, further uphold consumer welfare, and facilitate the efficient implementation of new energy policies such as the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, the Murang Kuryente Act, and the Energy Virtual One-Stop Shop Act,” Mr. Cusi said in his opening statement.

Of DoE’s proposed budget, P1.14 billion or almost 50% is for maintenance and other operating expenses; P521 million or 23% for capital outlays; P580 million or 25% for personal services; and P52 million or 2% for retirement and life insurance premiums. — Victor V. Saulon