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Environmental NGOs up in arms vs DMCI Power Corp.'s proposed coal power plant in Palawan

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Feb. 27 — The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) has granted the DMCI Power Corporation a conditional endorsement for its proposed 15-megawatt coal power plant in Narra in southern Palawan, a move that is meeting stern opposition from non-government organizations (NGOs) for the environment.

The conditional endorsement was granted to the DMCI Friday, according to former Palawan congressman David Ponce de Leon, who also sits as vice chairman of the PCSD. The chairman is Palawan Governor Baham Mitra.

Although the DMCI is yet to receive a copy of the conditional endorsement, Ponce de Leon said “effectively, the power corporation can already begin the submission of required documents to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).”

In a media conference Tuesday, Ponce de Leon said the endorsement is “conditional” because the municipal council of Narra, and the Palawan provincial board have not yet made any “action” regarding DMCI’s proposal to construct the coal power plant in Barangay Panacan.

As of this writing, only the barangay council of Narra favorably endorsed the hosting of the coal power plant.

“Sana ay maging mambabatas sila, hindi mambubutas. They have to act on this proposal,” Ponce de Leon said, adding it has been months since the Panacan barangay council forwarded its favorable endorsement of the coal power plant project to the municipal council of Narra.

Meanwhile, the issuance of the conditional endorsement has gained flak from non-government organizations for the environment that sternly oppose the project.

Indira Widdman of the Katala Foundation is worried that once it exists, the coal power plant and its fly ash will seriously affect the endangered Philippine Cockatoo.

“The proposed site for the plant is about a kilometer away from Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to a large number of globally threatened animal and plant species, including the critically endangered Philippine Cockatoo,” Widdman said.

Since 1998, Katala Foundation (KFI) has been implementing a comprehensive conservation project on Rasa and the adjacent mainland which harbors one quarter of the world population of the rare parrot.

Widdman said experts have deemed that the coal plant would result in cockatoo casualties due to collisions and electrocution at the feeder power lines.

“Even more seriously,” she said, “the coal power plant would block the flight path of the birds from the mainland to the island, which in turn would result in a reduction of the carrying capacity of Rasa Island for the species, since parent birds could not any more provide their young with sufficient food.”

According to the NGOs, it looks like the PCSD rushed to conditionally endorsed the coal power plant due to fears of a power crisis in Palawan. Demand for electricity is increasing due to numerous constructions of business establishments and housing facilities in Puerto Princesa.

Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO) general manager Rohima Sarra denied this, however, saying there remains enough power supply even with the highest peak load demand registering 32.4 megawatt.

However, she explained agreement contracts with their independent power producers (IPPs), including that with the National Power Corporation (NPC), will be ending soon, and would therefore, need augmentation. The IPPs supply Puerto Princesa with combined 39.7 megawatts.

PALECO opened its final bidding for new IPPs last year with only bidder DMCI Power Corporation. The power corporation signed with PALECO the Power Supply Agreement (PSA) on July 25, 2012.

The KFI said “before starting construction the company has to secure a clearance from the PCSD, a council established through Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan, for a balance management between economic development and the fragile environment of Palawan which in its entirety was declared a Man-and-Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.”

It also said local residents fear the proposed project site will pose health risks due to the effect of burning coal.

The village folks predominantly generate income from fishing, and thermal pollution from cooling water fall-out could lead to adverse effects in the marine ecosystem, notably coral bleaching and effect fisheries adversely, environmentalists said.

Impurities in coal include heavy metals, like mercury which is known to accumulate in marine food chains and can lead to severe health problems, including to immune, circulatory, digestive and nervous systems.

Concerns have also been raised regarding the economic feasibility of the project and its adverse effects on future investments in renewable energies once it is established and operational.

Due to these serious impacts of the project and the opposition it generated, the technical staff of the PCSD, the highest scientific authority in Palawan Province presented their evaluation and recommendations before the PCSD Environment and Natural Resources Committee headed by Ponce de Leon.

“The recommendations consisting of 15 mitigating measures, including relocation of the site, reforestation to compensate for carbon emissions and demand for detailed plans for rehabilitation of the site after decommission of the project. None of these were however considered in the council’s decision,” Widdman said.(PNA)


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