Early this year, Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) switched on its first micro-grid project in Isla Verde, Batangas, a magnet to foreign visitors and a haven for divers.
Residents of the island have been subsisting on diesel generator sets from six to ten p.m. for electricity for years.
Meralco joined forces with the Batangas City local government unit (LGU) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the company’s first solar microgrid, a small-scale power grid that can be operated independently from the country’s interconnected network of power transmission facilities.
The project supports the distribution utility’s (DU’s) initiatives towards using more sustainable energy sources and highlights efforts on rural electrification, a point of focus by President Rodrigo S. Duterte, who said that he wanted to put a stop to hurdles in the electrification of rural areas.
Preventing climate change
Meralco is expected to do more of these projects with the assumption recently of Atty. Ray C. Espinosa of the post of president and CEO of Meralco.
“We are conscious of our corporate citizen duty to reduce carbon footprints,” Espinosa said in his first briefing with the press. “We are very mindful of the impact that we have on the environment, how we can contribute to initiatives that will prevent climate change from happening sooner rather than later.”
Meralco’s power generation arm, Meralco PowerGen (MGen), is adding renewable energy (RE) into its portfolio by securing sites for both wind and solar, and looking to make the sites operational by year end, and hopefully generate bigger capacities next year.
“As we celebrate World Environment Day, we are developing 1,000 MW of RE projects in the next five years to seven years, joining the inexorable shift to renewable energy and the adoption of sustainable practices in everything we do,” Espinosa revealed.
At the same time, he said Meralco would continue to utilize coal for as long as there is no state policy prohibiting it because it has the obligation to secure sources of supply that has the least cost.
“We should not demonize Meralco because of the way supply is sourced. To begin with the government has not come up with any law or regulation that prohibits absolutely the use of coal,” he said.
Espinosa acknowledged that the company continues to face regulatory challenges. Many of its power supply applications have been stuck with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
“We want to see a more vibrant and active regulator,” he said.
But Meralco, he vowed, would heed the decision of the Supreme Court, which ruled that all power supply agreements submitted by the DUs with the ERC must undergo a competitive selection process.
“Build, Build Build” needs power
Aside from the fisherfolk and tourist-oriented community in Isla Verde, which is now powered by a 32-kW solar microgrid, plus a 192-kWh battery storage, Meralco’s subsidiaries, Spectrum and eSakay, are also working towards a greener business thrust, the former offering solar panel installations for both home and business, while the latter operates a fleet of e-jeepneys that have zero emissions in Makati and Mandaluyong. It also provides shuttle services in its compound in Ortigas, the ADMU compound in Katipunan, Quezon City; and La Salle in Canlubang.
But as attractive as RE seems, Espinosa opined that these sources of power really “cannot stand on their own for now”, due to a number of reasons. “For one, RE is intermittent,” he said. “The sun doesn’t shine all the time, and neither does the wind continue to blow perpetually.”
Espinosa explained that going green does not necessarily utilize only RE. “There are newer and state-of-the-art supercritical and ultra-supercritical technologies now that make even coal-based plants more efficient and provide low carbon emissions,” he said.
An example is MGen’s new supercritical coal-fired power plant in Mauban, Quezon, which is stated to go online this year, providing 500-MW of additional power to the Luzon Grid.
San Buenaventura Power Ltd. Co., MGen’s joint-venture with New Growth BV, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Thailand’s Energy Generating Public Co. Limited (EGCO), will operate this first supercritical coal plant in the Philippines.
President Duterte, in his first SoNA in 2015 acknowledged that with the advent of advanced technologies for coal-fired power generation, production of reliable, cost-competitive and highly efficient supply with minimal impact to the environment is now highly achievable.
Espinosa agrees. “With significant advances in technology, I believe we can both have renewables and ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants to provide the country’s much needed power supply to push the President’s industrialization goals,” he said.
“Hopefully we can all put our pitchforks down and start to work together,” Espinosa said. “The country needs both traditional and renewable sources, to provide power, without sacrificing our environment, for this generation, and the future generations to come.”
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