By Angelica Y. Yang, Reporter

THE GOVERNMENT must play a more proactive role in ensuring energy security and take on its social responsibility of assuring sufficient power, according to energy industry stakeholders.

“The DoE (Department of Energy) is the lead agency, and in short, what I see that is lacking or missing in DoE is their sense of urgency and strong leadership,” said University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Energy Engineering Professor Nicanor S. Villaseñor III. “They should be more proactive, rather than reactive.”

He said the Energy department should have started exploration activities as early as when it found out that the offshore Malampaya gas field’s reserves were dwindling. In this case, authorities were just reacting to the situation at hand, he added.

Energy Undersecretary and Spokesperson Felix William B. Fuentebella previously said that the agency expected compliance from those in the energy sector, citing “grave” economic and political consequences if industry players continue to defy government policies on maintaining sufficient reserves and plant outage schedules.

He said the department does not have the power to penalize industry members, but complaints can be brought up to Congress in the form of franchise revocation.

Although Republic Act No. 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Act of 2001 has fostered a deregulated environment, the government bears the social responsibility to ensure sufficient power supply, according to Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, who chairs his chamber’s energy committee.

“I don’t believe that energy security should be left in the hands of the private sector. That motivation is [the] government’s motivation. To some extent, yes, it’s the private sector because energy security generates profits [for] them. But it’s a social responsibility of government to make sure that we have constant supply of fuel and electricity,” he said.

For Developers of Renewable Energy for AdvanceMent, Inc. (DREAM) President Jose M. Layug, Jr., the government should adopt a pro-clean energy stance instead of a technology-neutral one, which Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi has been pursuing.

“At the end of the day, government needs to declare that we prefer renewables…Renewables are now cheaper than coal and natural gas, and they’re faster to build. You can build a solar plant for nine months. You can build a wind plant for 18 months. You can build a biomass plant for two years, so it’s much easier to build these RE (renewable energy) plants than your conventional plants,” he said.

Data from the DoE Electric Power Industry Management Bureau show that the country’s installed capacity for RE, natural gas, oil-based and coal facilities increased by over 4,800 megawatts (MW) from 2016 to 2020.

Of the number, renewables accounted for around 750 MW while 3,525 MW came from coal plants.

“Have we been able to build more capacities as we should? Unfortunately, no. The supply of electricity unfortunately did not grow as much as demand,” Mr. Layug said, adding that developers faced several problems in setting up power facilities.

“When you build a power plant, ask me how many permits do they need to get? Minimum 200. Do we really want them to build, or we just want to create barriers to power plants? Number two, [they have to put up with] the flip-flopping policy of government. Is this government really supportive of renewables or not?”

He added that although the government is not allowed to build a power plant, its role is to make it easy for the private sector to build such facilities.

Meanwhile, local think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) said the government should not create plans based on the existing grid, which depends on baseload power.

“We need to develop a grid that is capable of absorbing intermittency. Once we don’t develop this, the Philippines’ potential in harnessing RE will go to waste. You have the existing policies, but there are bottlenecks around it. The government’s plans are always based on the grid we have right now,” said CEED Executive Director Gerry C. Arances.

He said that it is imperative to introduce more RE plants which can supply baseload power while developing a “smart grid” or a grid that uses digital technology to quickly respond to consumers’ electricity demands.

While Mr. Gatchalian described coal as a “sunset” technology, he said it will likely remain a significant power source for seven years or more, even as there is pressure from the financing and environment sectors to phase out the fuel source.

Citing recent data, he said that around 65% to 75% of the country’s energy mix comes from imported sources — and this is what makes the Philippines susceptible to global fluctuations.

One way to address this is to keep diversifying energy sources, and not just relying on a single source country.

“For example, Saudi Arabia is a big supplier of crude oil, we should not just get from them. We should also get from other sources [and] look for other suppliers,” he said.

The lawmaker added the country should also keep looking for oil and gas through exploration activities and keep pushing for legacy and variable RE technologies.

Meanwhile, for UP’s Mr. Villaseñor, the government should consider implementing policies which are more forward-looking.

“Our energy situation is predominantly market driven [in terms of] policies. Given the situation where we are right now, we need to do more. We have to be more forward looking…[Our] energy policies should be able to address energy infrastructure by building in and readying capacities in generation, transmission and distribution. They should be removing barriers so that you will be able to undertake this build-up and upgrading,” he said.

Although the DoE regularly comes out with the Philippine Energy Plan (PEP), it also should look at creating an energy transition roadmap which should provide a specific timeline, targets and key performance indicators relating to the shift to other power sources other than conventional ones, he added.

At present, the department has yet to come out with the latest PEP covering the years 2020 to 2040, and the updated National Renewable Energy Plan, which details the roadmap in achieving a 35% RE share in the generation mix by 2030.