Environmentalists blast Aquino’s ‘hypocrisy’ over coal plant

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Photos by the MalacaƱang Photo Bureau
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ENVIRONMENTALISTS in the Philippines are disgusted over the Aquino administration’s open support for the operations of a new coal-fed power facility in Mindanao, a region currently besieged by power outages.

Just over a month after he spoke at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, President Benigno Aquino III flew to Davao City Friday — his first trip to Mindanao in 2016 — to lead the inauguration of the 300-MW coal-fired power plant handed out publicly as the solution to the looming power shortage in the region.

“This President is a hypocrite,” said Ben Muni, climate and energy campaigner of Greenpeace Philippines.

In Paris, Muni noted that Aquino made commitments to reduce the impacts of climate change to the Filipino people.

“And now, he is attending the inauguration of the very source of climate changing greenhouse gas emissions. We are asking you, Mr. President: Where is your sincerity and commitment? It seems you have forgotten your commitment in Paris,” Muni said.

The Davao City-based group Interface Development Interventions, Inc. (Idis) said the opening of the coal-fired power plant is a “bad, sad way to start the year.”

“This is really sad. We know that developed countries that have stricter environmental regulations are doing away from coal. The question is — why are we allowing it? Why are embracing it?” said Mary Ann Fuertes, executive director of Idis.

Aboitiz Power, in a statement, said the 300-MW power plant in Davao is one of the “critical projects” needed to solve the “perennial Mindanao power shortage.” The plant will supply more than 20 electric cooperatives and distribution utilities across Mindanao, Aboitiz said.

The project, operated by the Aboitiz subsidiary Therma South, is the 10th coal-fed power plant in the country, and the second operational plant in Mindanao.

Greenpeace said at least 15 other coal-fired power plants are to be finished across the country in the coming years.

During his speech, Aquino thanked the company for initiating the project, which he said will help in the development of the region.

“To emphasize just how significant this is, this plant’s dependable capacity is roughly equivalent to one-fifth of the Mindanao grid’s highest peak demand in 2015 — and it is already delivering power to areas at the end of the grid such as Sarangani, General Santos, and Zamboanga peninsula,” Aquino said.

During his address, the President did not mention anything about his attendance at the Paris climate change conference. But he recognized his administration’s renewable energy goals.

“It is not as if we have forgotten our goals of developing renewable energy, and doing our part to mitigate climate risk,” Aquino said. “In fact, we have increased our usage of renewables, and they now make up 33 percent of our energy mix … we did all this even if our nation’s carbon emissions are minimal, especially compared to industrial countries.”

But for Fuertes, the longterm impacts of the project will outweigh the benefits.

“It is beyond comprehension why we allowed this project — this is the largest smokestack releasing not only carbon, but also other toxic chemicals such as heavy metals, especially mercury, polluting our air and water resources,” she said. JMT

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