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Setting the bar high in powering Filipino communities

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Artist’s rendition of San Buenaventura Power Ltd. Co.’s 455-MW supercritical coal-fired power plant in Mauban, Quezon. The plant, which is currently under construction, will be the most-efficient plant in the country when it starts commercial operations in late 2019.

It has only been over a year since former Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Rogelio L. Singson took up the role of being Meralco PowerGen Corporation’s (MGen) president and chief executive officer. But in that time, he has brought the full weight of his experience and the principles he held as a public servant towards making the company a model of higher project and operational standards.

MGen, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Meralco in the power generation business, seeks to supply the Philippines with about 3,000 megawatts of total combined capacity through a diversified power generation portfolio. This is aimed to be accomplished over a period of five years, with at least 500 to 600 MW generated from renewable sources.

For Meralco, entering the power generation business is a strategic move that transforms the company from being a pure price-taker to a source of competitively priced electricity for its over six million customers. MGen is also a way of returning to its roots when the company started as a power generator and an electric service distributor.

In an industry where many of the country’s active coal power plants still utilize less-refined and decades-old technology and with active calls to address climate change, Mr. Singson promises that MGen would ensure that its projects would not only utilize the most advanced technologies but also would not adversely affect its host communities.

“Personally, I don’t want to be involved in any sort of environmental degradation. The company recognizes the importance of environmental stewardship amid concerns on global warming and it aims to set an example that will demonstrate that the Philippines does not have to choose between affordable and reliable electricity or a cleaner environment,” he said in an interview with BusinessWorld.

The company Mr. Singson envisions will provide large-scale reliable sources of power using the most-advanced and most-efficient technologies at competitive prices.

Renewable energy would play a part towards realizing such a vision. The official said MGen is currently in talks with several developers and is going full force towards making renewable energy projects a significant part of its portfolio in the long term.

Rogelio L. Singson, president and chief executive officer of Meralco PowerGen Corporation — Photo by Joey Viduya

“We want to be a major player in renewables,” Mr. Singson said. “But the system is not ready for a big portion of supply coming from intermittent power. You still need a base load that can cover the demand. It’s not that easy.”

But given that Meralco remains the sole distributor of electric power in the entirety of Metro Manila, serving millions of Filipinos 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the intermittent energy drawn from renewable sources simply is not enough at this point to meet the demand.

That’s why MGen is investing in cleaner, more efficient power plants that could meet the power requirements until the course towards renewable energy becomes more stable.

The company is pioneering the utilization of high efficiency, low emission (HELE) technology in its projects, which will be the most advanced coal plants in the country once they start commercial operations.

According to the World Coal Association, a “pathway to zero emissions from coal begins with deployment of HELE power generation…” which emit up to 35% less carbon dioxide and reduce, if not eliminate, pollutants compared to older technologies.

Currently, MGen has the San Buenaventura Power Limited Co., a 455-MW supercritical coal power plant in Mauban, Quezon that is scheduled to be operational in 2019. It is 51% owned by MGen, and 49% by Thailand’s Electricity Generating Public Co. Ltd.

MGen will also build a 1,200-MW ultra supercritical coal-fired power plant in Atimonan, Quezon, through Atimonan One Energy, Inc.

The latter is the company’s most significant investment yet, costing around USD3 billion. The plant has also been certified by the Department of Energy as an Energy Project of National Significance, and has secured a pioneer status from the Department of Trade and Industry.

“Atimonan to me is the most significant power project in the country,” Mr. Singson said, noting that it has the scale to provide a significant reliable, cost-competitive and baseload supply in the country.

Until then, Mr. Singson aims to make the best of the projects that MGen is currently developing. Harking back to his days as a public servant, he realizes the extent of the impact the Atimonan power plant will bring to the host community.

As part of his bigger dream for Atimonan, Mr. Singson wants to transform the now sleepy town into a model community with the help of different partners from both the private and the public sectors.

“I’ve been a very strong advocate of social awareness,” he said, adding: “I am committed to the development of power projects and the transformation of our host communities into progressive, sustainable and smart communities.”

In the meantime, the company pursues corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in its host community. One key pillar of its CSR is ensuring that the knowledge, capabilities and skills of the residents are well-developed.

MGen is bringing skills training and technical vocational scholarships to Atimonan so the residents could take advantage of the employment the power plant can give them. The company is also spearheading programs that focus on livelihood development, health and sanitation, disaster resiliency, and environmental stewardship of the community.

“Whatever we do, we do in partnership with other NGOs, with the local government unit, with the barangay officials so they have a say and a stake in whatever development plans we have,” MGen Vice-President and Head of External Affairs Litz M. Manuel-Santana said.

“We also consult with the department of environment and natural resources, and we submit to them on an annual basis our social development program. It’s a holistic approach,” she added.

As MGen lays the groundwork for renewable energy in the near future, Mr. Singson emphasized the same need for forward thinking in developing Atimonan as a community.

Mr. Singson said the company brought in experts to help the local government of Atimonan to build a Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP).

“You have to anticipate the whole system when you make investments. Our communities are very important part of our development,” he said.

“We need to help them. We need to prepare them. I want to make sure that the community evolves and it grows with the investment. Those who will benefit must be those who live in Atimonan, plus those in the surrounding communities. We want to ensure that as we grow, our communities grow and develop with us.”