Environmental Groups Intensify Opposition to Planned Expansion of Coal-Fired Power Plants

A typical coal power plant generates an average of 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide… 500 tons of small airborne particles…720 tons of carbon monoxide… 225 pounds of arsenic… and 114 pounds of lead, four pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium which are all poisonous and carcinogenic.


MANILA – Coal-fired power plant is the most hazardous energy source in the world but despite its dire effects, the national government plans to construct at least four new coal power plants by 2012 and is targeting to increase the local production of coal by 250 percent by 2015.

According to Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), more coal-fired power plants will be constructed in the provinces of Isabela, Zambales, Negros Oriental and Occidental, Davao City, Saranggani, General Santos, and Sultan Kudarat.

There are already nine existing coal-fired power plants in the Philippines which are operating in Sual, Pangasinan; Masinloc, Zambales; Mauban and Pagbilao, Quezon; Toledo City and Naga, Cebu; La Paz, Iloilo, and Semirara, Antique and Villanueva, Misamis Oriental. By December of this year, Panay Energy Development Corp. (PEDC) will start to operate in Iloilo, while Korean Electric Power Co. (Kepco) in Naga, Cebu was also set to operate next year.

“The hazards of coal fired power plants is well discussed in numerous international studies, but here in the Philippines, there seem to be a deliberate attempt by the government to ignore these health and environmental impacts as well as the pleas of the communities against coal fired power projects,” said Meggie Nolasco, public information officer of Kalikasan-PNE.

After his US trip last September, Aquino boasted of bringing home $3.7 billion in investments. Part of this potential investments would be coming from Marubeni Corp, which plans to rehabilitate and expand the 1,200-megawatt (MW) Sual and 735-MW Pagbilao coal-fired power facilities in Luzon.


How dirty could the coal-fired power plant be?

A typical coal power plant generates an average of 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain; 500 tons of small airborne particles which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death and lung diseases; 720 tons of carbon monoxide which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease; 225 pounds of arsenic which is carcinogenic; and 114 pounds of lead, four pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium which are all poisonous and carcinogenic.

Coal-fired power plants produce electricity through coal. The coal, a sedimentary rock is the main material in producing energy. It is burned to produce heat; this heat coming from the burning coal is used to generate steam that is used to spin one or more turbines to generate electricity. Coal is composed of carbon along with variable quantities of other elements, sulfur, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.

However, the generation of harmful byproducts in coal burning depends on the efficiency of the process. Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairperson of Agham said if the coal is made of pure carbon, its byproduct is carbon dioxide. But the country’s coal is not high grade; it is not pure carbon. “Not all coal available here in our country are pure, there are other materials contained in the coal and some of these are even radioactive.”

In an interview with Bulatlat, Tapang explained that if the coal is not burned efficiently, the radioactive materials contained by coal would be emitted through the ashes coming from the burned coal. This would definitely affect the community surrounding the coal-fired power plant. “We oppose this because it does not only contribute to climate change but also has vast effects on the community and the people.”

Companies running coal-fired power plants claim that there are new technologies to ensure that people’s lives and the environment would not be at risk, said Tapang. “According to them there are ways to ensure the efficiency of coal burning like liquefying the coal (grind it into fine powder and mix it with other materials). But still, if the burning process is not efficient the plant would still emit substances in the atmosphere. And there would still be liquid wastes that have to be disposed somewhere and would have effects on the community.”

Impact on Health

On Oct. 14, PEDC had a second test run of its 164 megawatt coal power plant in Barangay Ingore La Paz, Iloilo. According to the local urban poor organization Kadamay, the residents complained of ground tremors, loud noise and foul fumes. During the test run, the communities were covered by smog. Kadamay added at least eight children from the affected village, aged eight months to 14 years old, were hospitalized after inhaling fumes from the plant and exhibiting symptoms of sickness, such as headaches, dizziness and nausea.

A medical mission conducted in Naga, Cebu in December last year by the group of Dr. Romeo Quijano, a professor at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in University of the Philippines(UP) -College of Medicine, proved that coal-fired power plants greatly affects people’s health. The Salcon Power Corp. (SPC)-Kepco operates in Naga.

According to a news report, people who accidentally inhaled coal ash from the operating coal-fired power plant affects their upper respiratory system. In Barangay Poblacion, Naga, 34 of 97 patients have upper respiratory infections. Some of the diseases acquired by the people within the community of Naga are hypertension, urinary tract infection, Musculosketal disorder that affects the body’s muscles, joints, tendons ligament and nerves, Koch’s pulmonary or tuberculosis and other lung-related diseases like pneumonia and acute bronchitis, arthritis, errors of refraction, malnutrition and postural hypertension among others.

Nolasco said increasing the number of coal-fired power plants in the country is misguided and downright disastrous.

Contradiction in Prevention of Climate Change

The Philippines participates in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), an international treaty that sets general goals and rules for confronting climate change.

According to Kaliksan-PNE, coal is identified as the single major source of carbon emission and air pollution in the world. “Coal accounts for one third of the emissions of global greenhouse gases, the primary cause of climate change and global warming. The power industry consumes most of the coal produced and coal-fired power plants, the main technology used to convert coal to electricity, is known as one of the dirtiest power generation technologies.”

“This contradicts our country’s commitment to prepare people to adapt to the effects of climate change and to protect people’s health,” Nolasco told Bulatlat.

Moratoruim on Coal-Fired Power Plants

On Nov. 24, Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis Act Teacher’s Partylist and Kabataan have filed a house resolution calling for the immediate moratorium on the construction and/or expansion of all coal-fired power plant projects in the country until 2050.

The organizations under the Network Opposed to Coal Power Plants (No to Coal Power Plants) supported the resolution.

Nolasco, also the spokesperson of No to Coal Power Plants said the resolution “is in response to the Aquino administration’s push for two new coal power plants in Iloilo City and Cebu province to operate early next year and its commitment to foreign and local energy companies to construct four coal power plants in the country.”

However, the group clarified that they are not calling for the closure of existing coal power plants in the country. The moratorium until 2050 only goes with the deadline set by the UNFCC to stabilize global carbon emission, climate change, and global warming. The group also said that by 2050 there would be a 52 percent increase of greenhouse gas emissions if the trend in carbon emissions continues. This would result in a rise of global temperature by 1.7 – 2.4 degrees centigrade.

“Imposing a coal moratorium in the country is a big contribution to combating global warming. More so, avoiding the use of coal for power will alleviate our dependency to imported fossil fuels and dirty power technologies. Given the right policies and programs on energy, the government can definitely provide a cheap, stable and clean power supply to the Filipino people, without sacrificing the welfare of our communities and environment,” Nolasco said.

Privatization of Electric Power Industry

Tapang said there are other alternatives for generating power and the Philippines has one of the highest potential in the world in terms of geothermal resources. Added to this, Tapang said, the country’s solar and wind power potentials are more than enough to replace existing power generation.

Other indigenous renewable energy sources are biomass and water. Tapang said these industries needed only to be tapped and developed.

“It is the responsibility of the government to build the power plants and generate, transmit and distribute the electricity in the country. However, the government privatized the National Power Corporation (NPC) and let private companies to develop the electric power industry,” Tapang explained, citing the Electric Power Industry Act of 2001 (Epira). “The problem is these private companies will not build plants if they will not gain profits,” said Tapang.

“The government should have developed other energy sources like renewable energy instead of passing an anti-people law like Epira,” Tapang explained. (Bulatlat.com)


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