In March, Meralco cautioned that the surge in crude oil prices globally could lead to an increase in the generation charge. In fact, just this month, the distributor already announced an increase in the per kilowatt-hour (kWh) charge. Surely, this has since resulted in consumers scrambling to find ways to make do with a tighter budget amid the warmest season of the year. All this has only amplified longstanding calls for the country to find alternative sources of energy, such as renewables.
In 2008, the Arroyo administration signed Republic Act No. 9513 or the Renewable Energy Act to accelerate the development of the country’s renewable energy resources and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. However, since the law’s enactment, the country remains heavily reliant on energy sources such as coal. In fact, in 2021, the officer-in-charge of the Department of Energy (DOE) Renewable Energy Management Bureau was quoted saying that the share of renewable energy in the country’s power generation composition has actually dipped since the law was signed from 34 percent to 21 percent.
Cognizant of this problem, the drafters of the National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) 2020-2040 set a target of increasing the share of renewable energy to 35 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2040 — an objective that has proven to be very timely given the volatility of the price of oil.
This transition to alternative sources of energy has become a trend in many countries—even oil-producing nations — over the years. For instance, in 2021, Saudi Arabia announced their goal of having 50 percent of its power mix used in electricity production sourced from natural gas and renewable energy sources by 2030. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also announced last year its intention to invest heavily in renewable energy in line with their goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. With high oil prices nowadays, many analysts, as pointed out by the Oxford Business Group, have predicted that even more governments would look to developing their respective renewable energy resources.
For the Philippines, the missions stated in the NREP include increasing geothermal capacity by 75 percent; hydropower capacity by 160 percent; the capacities of biomass, wind, and solar power; and developing the country’s first ocean energy facility. Meeting these targets, the NREP estimates, would yield an additional capacity of over 9,800 megawatts (MW) by 2030 — increasing our total installed capacity to around 15,000 MW.
The opportunity to deploy more renewable energy sources in the Philippines has long been noted. In 2017, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) noted that the country has enormous potential for this type of energy, considering the Philippines has “no significant deposits of fossil fuels.” WWF emphasized that the country has the capacity to further develop these resources even before 2030.
Meanwhile, a parallel discussion has already started on the prospect of nuclear energy. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi was quoted stating that they are actively pushing for nuclear energy to minimize the reliance on petroleum imports. More importantly, President Duterte has ordered the establishment of an inter-agency committee to examine the feasibility of incorporating nuclear energy in the country’s power mix. In fact, the DOE has announced a plan to restart the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) which was constructed in 1984 but was never operational.
Many countries are now considering this type of energy. One compelling draw is its low carbon footprint.
According to nuclear fuel cycle company Orano, nuclear power “emits 70 times less CO2 than coal, 40 times less than gas, four times less than solar energy, two times less than hydroelectricity and the same amount as wind energy.”
However, due to the disastrous effects of nuclear accidents witnessed all over the world, it is expected that the debates for or against nuclear energy would go on for many years — especially on the prospect of reviving the mothballed BNPP, which the DOE estimated would cost $1 billion over four year.
The attendant issues notwithstanding, the Philippines should still actively explore and develop alternative sources of energy. Doing so would not only help with global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and respond to the existential threat of climate change. It would also reduce the negative impact on marginalized sectors of high energy prices, and the knock-on effects on basic goods and services. With the Duterte administration coming to a close, it is important for his successor to follow through and improve upon what has already been done towards leading our country to a more “green,” and energy-secure future.
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Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years — nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 250 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.