The controversial 15-megawatt coal power generation facility in southern Palawan is slated to come online in April 2023 if everything goes according to plan. However, civil society groups have vowed to continue opposing its operation, claiming it to be a hazard to health and the environment.

Engr. Rolando Chavez, local plant manager for DMCI Power Corporation, announced on Monday that their coal-fired plant in Brgy. Bato-Bato, Narra, will finally undergo testing in January 2023, and if all goes well, it will begin full commercial operation two months later.

“Actually, sa January magpa-fire na kami pero hindi pa naka connect sa grid yon—within sa plant lang muna. Tapos ang target talaga ng commercial operation—ibig sabihin naka connect na sa grid—ay sa April 2023,” Chavez said during the 4th Quarter Press Conference of the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO).

“Ang completion ay nasa 80% na sa ngayon,” he said, adding that the remaining 20% involves the electrical connection between their coal plant and the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR).

Since 2012, when the PALECO signed a Power Supply Agreement (PSA) with DMCI Power for a guaranteed dependable capacity of 25 megawatts, the company has battled “No to Coal” opposition posted by concerned residents and civil society organizations.

As a consequence, the process of identifying the site at which to initiate the construction of the project so it could start operation in 2014 was slowed down. 

In September 2020, following the issuance of DMCI Power’s ECC in April 2019, the civil society filed a case to legally stop the construction of the coal-fired power plant. Although it has concluded, the court has not yet ruled on whether the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) will be modified.

EIAs guarantee that those in charge of making decisions about a project take into consideration the likely environmental impacts as early as possible, with the intention of avoiding, mitigating, or offsetting those effects.

They asserted that there was insufficient public consultation and that the proponent did not provide enough information regarding the environmental and health impacts of the project.

According to Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), one of the frontline organizations protesting the coal plant, “the struggle to stop it is not yet over” because there are still terms and conditions in DMCI Power’s environmental compliance certificate (ECC) and Strategic Environment Plan (SEP) clearance that it hasn’t met to this day.

She said these unmet compliances are based on their communications with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), which issued the ECC and the SEP clearance, respectively.

“It disturbs us that until now, we have yet to secure a definitive answer from the DENR—for example, sa ECC nila, they’re supposed to utilize high-quality coal, and the Semirara coal is low quality,” she said.

“They’re supposed to take a cost-benefit analysis, they have to undertake studies related to health hazards, related to carbon capture, so these are terms and conditions in the ECC. They cannot operate without complying those conditions,” she added.

Anda explained that it is the responsibility of the DENR and the PCSD to ensure that DMCI Power is “compliant” with the regulations that govern its operations.

She said further that DMCI Power’s PSA is only valid until 2027 (5 years); thus, there is no longer a need for a coal plant, especially since it has been proven that there is adequate power supply.

“Even if they’re saying that the coal plant is cheaper; that is cheaper in terms of the cost—well, the Semirara coal is low quality kaya baka siguro ang kanilang perspective ay mura. That’s only one aspect—the cost to the health, the cost to the environment are also cost,” she said.

She stated that countries are already shutting down coal plants because access to a clean and healthy environment is considered a “human right” by the United Nations.

Moreover, the Conference of the Parties (COP) that was held in Egypt last month called for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; however, the country’s last ecological frontier will continue to use coal to generate electricity.

“It’s the irony of all ironies—para sa akin, it’s an irony of the most lamentable character,” she said. “If this happens in the last ecological frontier, it really causes us to wonder why it has to be done at this time and in Palawan.”

Chavez stated that at the present time, their capacity is guaranteed to be 35 megawatts. The capacity of the company would go up to 50 megawatts if the coal plant contributed an additional 15 megawatts.

Even though they have a short time left on their PSA, they are unwaveringly committed to delivering 15 megawatts of power from their coal plant to PALECO, according to him.