The House of Representatives has created the Special Committee on Nuclear Energy to be headed by Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco.
The committee, which is tasked to determine the viability of nuclear power in the country, is in line with the energy policies of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla, meanwhile, said the Department of Energy (DOE) will create a nuclear regulatory framework first before going into talks about establishing new nuclear power plants in the country.
Lotilla issued the statement amid renewed interest in nuclear power, including reports that business tycoon Manny Pangilinan was interested in investing in such technologies.
The DOE is also moving to secure the power supply in the off-grid or missionary areas amid high electricity prices as part of the government’s push toward total electrification.
During a briefing, Lotilla said that off-grid areas must be provided power even as electricity costs have sky-rocketed given the high diesel prices.
The Energy Secretary said oil accounted for 89 percent, a whopping percentage of the fuel used by power plants in the off-grid areas.
The House said the newly established panel would be tasked to tackle “all matters directly and principally relating to the policies and programs to the production, utilization, and conservation of nuclear energy, including the development of nuclear power infrastructure, as well as interaction of other energy sources with nuclear energy as a reliable, cost competitive, and environment-friendly energy source to ensure energy security consistent with the national interest and the state’s policy of freedom from nuclear weapons.”
The committee is composed of 25 members.
In his manifestation, Cojuangco explained that nuclear energy is an energy source that is cheap, clean, and reliable regardless of weather conditions.
He assured the public that his committee would do its part in informing the people about the efficiency and benefits of nuclear energy, as well as in crafting measures that could provide for the construction of nuclear power plants in the country.
In view of the new panel, the House committee on energy’s jurisdiction has been amended to exclude nuclear energy. Cojuangco also heads this committee.
Lotilla said the DOE must first address the concerns of communities when setting up new nuclear power plants so the country would really be prepared for it.
He said the government must be able “to regulate safely [and] to put up necessary standards.”
He also reiterated President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr’s call that the country must adhere to the policies and standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency which strengthened the requirements for nuclear power plants following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
“Imagine how much the price of diesel and bunker fuel increased in the last year alone. And you can imagine the cost of electricity in order to produce them for our people in the major islands like Mindoro, Masbate, and Palawan, all these off-grid areas have to be provided with the power, and the costs have skyrocketed,” Lotilla said.
He said that upon the instructions of the President, the energy sector has to attend to the people, and the National Power Corp. and the Energy Regulatory Commission are now looking into it.
“The amount of subsidy has been inadequate, and therefore the National Power Corp. has run out of funds,” Lotilla said, adding that the ERC is already studying how to address it.
Napocor is mandated to provide electricity to off-grid areas under the Electric Power Reform Industry Act of 2001.
“The longer-term solution, however, is to move from again, the President said, over-dependence on imported sources. We have to go for more indigenous sources,” Lotilla said.
In other developments:
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said he was alarmed at the steep rise in electricity rates in Mindanao and other parts of the country as he recommended a review and amendment of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). “The electricity rate in Cagayan de Oro has increased tremendously from P10.62 per kilowatt hour in January of this year, to P14.18 in July for commercial consumers,” he said. In Bukidnon, he said a residential consumer paid P15.15 per kilowatt hour in June, and in July, he paid P16.56 per kilowatt hour. Zubiri said it has been 21 years since EPIRA was passed, and that there was a need to review and amend it to respond to the condition of the times.
Lotilla said he has no plans to lift the ban on new coal plants.
“The moratorium on building new coal-fired power plants has been set, and I do not believe in completely changing policies and therefore sending mixed signals to investors,” Lotilla said during a briefing.
In October 2020, former Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi announced a moratorium on endorsements for greenfield or new coal power plants following an assessment of the country’s energy requirements. Cusi said the ban would help build a more sustainable power system that will be resilient in the face of structural changes in demand and flexible enough to accommodate the entry of new, cleaner, and indigenous technological innovations. “It’s the market itself. In fact, market behavior is not favoring the construction of more coal plants. Insurers do not want to support it. Investors also find it difficult,” Lotilla said. Coal currently accounts for 43 percent of the country’s installed capacity, 46 percent of dependable capacity, and 58 percent of power generation.