FIRST GEN. Corp. said on Thursday that the Department of Energy (DoE) had approved its application to have the company’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal project declared as nationally significant, making it easier for the company to secure permits.

In a disclosure to the stock exchange, the Lopez-led company said the Energy Investment Coordinating Council (EICC), a multi-agency panel led by the DoE, declared the FGEN Batangas LNG Terminal Project as an energy project of national significance (EPNS) under Executive Order (EO) No. 30.

Jonathan C. Russell, First Gen executive vice-president and chief commercial officer, said the project is crucial to ensure the continued operations of the 3.2-gigawatt existing natural gas-fired power plants in the country amid the expected reduction in gas supply from the Malampaya field up to the expiration of the contracts by 2024.

“First Gen will continue to work hard to ensure that this project will also be available to allow the development of new gas-fired capacity, with a lower carbon footprint that will support introduction of more intermittent renewables for the Philippines,” he said in a statement.

First Gen said its wholly owned subsidiary was issued a certificate of EPNS.

“EPNS are significant energy projects for power generation, transmission, and/or ancillary services including those required to maintain grid stability and security, and which are in consonance with the policy thrusts and specific goals of the DOE’s Philippine Energy Plan (PEP),” it said.

EO 30 intends to establish a simplified approval process and harmonize the relevant rules and regulations of all government agencies involved in the permitting process.

First Gen said the unit’s application was based on the project’s requirement to develop significant infrastructure and capital investment “involving complex technical processes and engineering designs that will result in a substantial positive impact on the environment.”

It said the project will also provide “a consequential economic impact that will contribute to the country’s economic development and healthy balance of payments.”

It added that the project is consistent with the DoE’s Nine Point Energy Agenda and PEP 2017-2040 as it promotes LNG importation as an option to supplement and replace Malampaya gas, ensuring a sustainable supply to develop the fuel for the future in anticipation of the depletion of the offshore resource.

First Gen’s import terminal will be built in the First Gen Clean Energy Complex in Barangays Sta. Clara, Sta. Rita Aplaya and Bolbok, Batangas City. It will be owned and managed by FGEN LNG.

The EPNS certification comes months after First Gen signed in December 2018 a joint development agreement with Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd. to pursue the development of the project where the foreign partner took a 20% participating interest.

In March 2019, FGEN LNG received the formal approval of its application for a “notice to proceed” from the DoE, as defined in and required by the Philippine Downstream Natural Gas Regulation.

First Gen said the entry of LNG would encourage both industrial and transport industries to consider it as a replacement to more costly and polluting fuels.

On Thursday, shares in First Gen closed higher by 1.75% at P26.20 each. — Victor V. Saulon