In Catanduanes: Townsfolk support hydro plant

VIRAC, Catanduanes — Close to 3,000 people from various municipalities in the island province of Catanduanes stormed the hearing of the Energy Regulatory Commission here to show their support for the controversial mini hydro-power plant project whose construction was blocked by Gov. Joseph Cua.

Energy Commissioner Rodolfo Albano, Jr., chairman of the Energy Regulatory Commission, expressed bemusement upon seeing close to 3,000 people coming in together with streamers and placards expressing their support to the P729 million proposed hydro power plant projects that they said could help resolve the worsening power outages here

The P729 million proposed hydro-power project was initiated by Chinoy businessman Elizaldy Co, president of the Sunwest Water and Power Co. Inc., (SUWECO) based in Legazpi City. To Co’s dismay, the proposed project was opposed by Gov. Cua of this province.

Co accused Cua of protecting the latter’s diesel oil business by turning down the environment-friendly and recyclable hydro power plant. Co’s sentiment were supported by other concerned Bicolano lawmakers and policy makers, including former Senator Francisco Tatad, a native of this province.

The security guards of First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative (FICELCO) reportedly barred the people with streamers and placards from entering the premises unless they agreed to leave behind their propaganda materials.

Albano was amazed because according to him it was the first ever in the country wherein thousands of people thronged to attend a commission’s hearing relative to a planned hydro-power plant project.

“This is the first time in the country’s history that the commission conducted the ERC hearing wherein thousands of people are very eager to know the outcome of the hearing. Even Senator Tatad and Bishop Manolo de los Santos are here; seemingly the contract is in the favor of the consumers,” Albano said before large audience here.

Tatad attended the first day of hearing last June 5 from 2:00 pm until 5:00 pm, along with the people of Catanduanes while Bishop De los Santos attended the June 6 hearing from 9: 00 a.m., to 12:00 noon under the scorching heat of the sun within the FICELSO compound.

Albano even requested the people to stand up together as a sign of their respect to the prelate.

Albano flew in this island province to preside over the two-day initial hearing, pre-trial conference and evidentiary hearing for ERC Case No. 2008-021 in the matter of application for approval of the Electricity Supply Agreement (ESA) between Ficelco and SUWECO held at Ficelco compound last June 5 and 6. The hearing was conducted after the proposed hydro power plant projects was contested by Gov. Cua before the ERC last May 26, 2008 following the authority given by the provincial board led by Vice Gov. Alfredo M. Aquino last May 7, this year.

Cua cited in his opposition paper to the ERC that the applicant failed to submit the documents prescribed by law; there is no competitive selection process or bidding undertaken by Ficelco in the selection of SUWECO as new power producer; the agreement entered into between Ficelco and Co’s firm did not conduct feasibility study to justify the assumptions made in the Electricity Supply Agreement; the selling price of electricity offered by Co is grossly overpriced and is against the basis established by law, thus SUWECO has no technical and financial capability to undertake the project.

Cua also said that the Ficelco has an existing ESA with several power providers which to date still remains to be in effect not having been declared invalid or rescinded by any competent authority in an appropriate proceeding.

Zaldy Co said that the primary reason why the governor was opposing the project was selfish business interest.

“Kung sa Iloilo mainit kaming sinasalubong ni Gov. Sally Perez nang garland dahil sa hydro power project, dito sa Catandaunes sinalubong kami ni Governor Cua ng bato. Nakakalungkot isipin na kapwa ko pa Bicolano ang hindi supportive at nag-oppose,” Co lamented.

Co told Bicol Mail that as a Bicolano businessman he was pioneering a clean renewable energy project in the region to prepare for the increasing power demand that would result to gradual and global power shortages starting in 2011.

“If he allowed our project, the government will save P200 million a year aside from providing clean energy, employment and income to the province and host municipalities even as it will also attract new investors,” Co told Bicol Mail.

Former Senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad also assailed Gov. Cua for his vested interest.

He said Cua was involved in the sale and distribution of bunker that would be affected when the hydro plant began to operate.

“Governor Cua should distinguish business interest from politics,” Tatad said.

In an interview over the mobile phone, Gov. Cua denied the accusation of Tatad and Co.

Cua said that he was just questioning the ESA agreement entered into between the FICELCO and SUWECO because there was no competitive bidding done which could possibly be disadvantageous to the prople of Catanduanes in the future.

He admitted he owned three gasoline stations and the National Power Corporation is using his tank as storage of bunk-fed fuel.

“NPC is using my tank as storage of bunker fuel but I am opposing the project because of lapses made within the ESA entered into by SUWECO and FICELCO,” the governor said.

He explained however that despite his opposition, he cannot do anything if ERC finally decided to approve the ESA.

SUWECO is engaged in the installation and distribution of water and electric utilities on the micro level and on macro plane for other similar projects in other parts of the country outside Bicol.

Co said that SUWECO works to help reduce dependency on imported fossil fuel, where prices are constantly increasing.

SUWECO also provides the host community significant revenues as mandated by R.A. 7156 from the operation of the mini-hydro plants.

a“While the province of Albay is a prime energy source for mainland Luzon, its residents and the rest of Bicol have had to cope with more expensive energy rates,” Co said adding that the search for cheaper alternative energy sources becomes even more imperateat economic crisis.

Caption: DIESEL VS HYDRO PLANT. Former Senator Francisco Tatad (seated, 3rd from left of front row among the audience), a native of the island province of Catanduanes, flew home to attend the ERC hearing on the proposed hydro plant which Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua opposes. – RHAYDZ B. BARCIA

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