The DMCI Power Corporation’s (DMCI Power) proposed 15-megawatt coal-fired power plant has finally been issued an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), indicating that the project could now proceed after years of struggling to secure the government permit and facing opposition from pro-environment groups.

The ECC issuance, the final document that the DMCI Power needed to proceed to the next stage of its project plan, was given by the DENR on June 17, 2019, according to Atty. Michael Drake Matias, regional director of the agency’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in the MIMAROPA.

“In so far as ‘yong mga na-submit nila sa amin, na-comply naman nila. The project was subjected to consultation, evaluation by the review committee members, as well as ‘yong mga endorsements from local government units (LGUs) like the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) andyan naman,” Matias told Palawan News in a phone interview Monday.

Matias said under the ECC, the DMCI Power coal project is required to have social development and management programs (SDMPs) for surrounding communities it will impact in Brgy. Bato-Bato (formerly San Isidro), Narra and ensure compliance with all existing environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and others.

He said the DENR, particularly the EMB, will be strictly monitoring the construction of the coal-fired power plant which needs to establish some required facilities.

Under the ECC, Matias explained it is compulsory for the coal project to set up a continuous emission monitoring system (EMS) for real-time evaluation of its air discharges.

It is also required to install a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pond line or ash disposal pond to prevent ground seepage of its bottom ash.

“They are required to put an emission monitoring system so that we will know real-time ‘yong quality ng emission nila. For example, sa mga ash naman na mage-generate, we required them to have this HDPE line ash pond so that walang seepage sa ilalim ng lupa and the ash, I think, will be transported to Semirara. They also have an agreement para sa shipment ng mga ash na ito,” Matias said.

He explained that the DMCI Power will have to submit to them this agreement with Semirara within three months from the receipt of the ECC for the EMB to know their bottom and fly ash disposal plan.

Matias noted that several years ago, their regional office denied the DMCI Power’s request for ECC. However, the power player appealed the decision to the DENR EMB central office.

“If you look at the records of this case, initially, it was denied by the [regional] legal office. But they appealed to the EMB central office and it reversed the decision of the legal office, which led us to the issuance of the ECC,” he said.

Energy Project of National Significance

In addition to the EMB central office’s reversal, Mattias said the coal-fired power project was also certified as an Energy Project of National Significance (EPNS) by the Department of Energy (DOE).

Matias said DMCI Power’s EPNS was issued on April 24, 2019.

The certification given was signed by Energy Sec. Alfonso Cusi under Executive Order No. 30 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte sometime in June 2017. It provides that government agencies concerned with energy projects should presume other agencies were able to act upon and issue their respective permits within a 30-day period.

The EPNS is an approval simplification process that coordinates closely connected policies and regulations of all government agencies involved in the permitting operation.

“Tapos in addition, meron silang EPNS signed by the secretary of DOE. Natanggap namin bago lang, mga April 2019. Na-issue ng DOE ‘yon. Subject to required permits from other local agencies, for example, building permit, puwede na mag-proceed,” he said.

Matias pointed out too, that right now, there is no regulation prohibiting them from processing applications for coal-fired projects not only in the MIMAROPA region but also in other parts of the country.

DMCI Power’s coal-fired plant is only 15 megawatts, however, they have obliged the company to comply with the requirements that are for 200-300 megawatt projects, he said.

“If you will observe the ECC we issued for this particular project, ‘yong measures that are being required for the coal-fired project, which is nasa vicinity ng 200-300 megawatts are likewise being required from this project. Siguro if in the near future there will be a policy from the government, then we will implement the policy. But until then, we have to assess and process applications provided they are able to comply with all our requirements,” he said.

Civil society reacts

In reaction, Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) executive director Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, who is one of the lead convenors of the civil society group Save Palawan Movement (SPM) under which the Palawan Alliance for Clean Energy (PACE) is now a part of, is asking about “the basis” that the EMB considered to issue the coal project’s ECC.

She told Palawan News in a separate interview on Tuesday that they might appeal the issuance, but they have to secure a copy of the ECC first from the EMB.

“We will try to secure a copy, study it, and maybe file for reconsideration. But as we all know, pahirapan na ‘yan kasi all the other permits na-issue na. We will see how the Save Palawan Movement — kasi ang SPM ginawa na naming comprehensive ‘yong issues niya. May mining, coal, so we will discuss this among ourselves and who would be willing to focus on energy kasi ‘yong PACE is already part of the movement. How it was done, why was it prioritized?” she said.

Palawan does not lack power supply, Anda said, stating “distribution” is its only problem.

She said the EMB should be transparent in the process it followed to be able to issue the ECC to the coal-fired power project and to explain the basis why it is a project of national significance.

“Kapag natayo ‘yan, magsisisihan na tayo sa impact. Ang hirap na nyan matanggal once that is set up. The basis that it is of national significance, with all due respect, is not sound because all they have to do is to look at the Palawan Island Power Development Plan (PIPDP). Coal is not a least cost option. Ang least cost option doon ay combination of mini hydro with diesel and bunker. We have enough power supply,” Anda said.

She said DMCI Power has also not delivered on its 25-megawatt guaranteed dependable capacity.

If the EMB will only look at its track record, Anda said DMCI Power failed to deliver its commitment under the Power Supply Agreement (PSA) it signed with the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO).

“You are looking at a power player here whose track record is actually questionable. Palawan has enough power supply, it is not the problem but distribution. So, if it is set up, it will not resolve the problem. If you say it is of national significance na project, what is the factual basis? If it is not grounded on facts, it’s not a sound analysis because all they have to do is to look at the power supply analysis of PALECO,” she said.

The civil society group in Palawan has claimed that coal power projects are dangerous to human health as it releases a number of airborne toxins and pollutants, among them mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other particulates.

DMCI Power’s assurance statement

In a statement sent to Palawan News on Tuesday through DMCI Power-Palawan Plant manager Rolando Antonio Chavez Jr., the power company said the DENR’s recently issued ECC to its 15-megawatt circulating fluidized bed (CFB) thermal power plant project in the province is proof of their compliance with environmental laws and other imposed government regulations.

DMCI Power said that the project in Bato-Bato will also have the capability to utilize renewable fuel from biomass.

“The ECC is supported by the PCSD’ Strategic Environmental Plan clearance, local endorsements and necessary permits needed for the project. Moreover, the project was recently certified as an EPNS by the DOE in line with Pres. Duterte’s call to stabilize the power supply in Palawan,” it said in the statement.

It also added that the thermal power plant is likewise in compliance with the PSA with PALECO awarded through a Competitive Selection Process (CSP) in July 2012.

DMCI Power also assured that the project will benefit Palaweños because it will offer affordable electricity rates once the provision on the Universal Charge for Missionary Electrification (UC-ME) subsidy will be implemented as provided under DOE Circular 2019-01-0001.

“The project is expected to benefit the Palaweños with a more stable and reliable power plant capable of running continuously. Likewise, the operation of the said power plant will ultimately benefit all of PALECO’s member-consumers of a lower electricity rate. The DMCI Power-Palawan assures the public that all terms and conditions set forth by the ECC will be strictly followed as well as its compliance to all environmental standards with its new technology,” the statement said.

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