A massive development, including a Forbes Park-type community, will rise on a grazing area in Porac, Pampanga that was deemed worthless by Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991. From wasteland to a Forbes Park-type development is, by all benchmarks, an improbable leap. Except for small farmers who lamented the loss of a pastureland for their goats and cattle (I barter boars with some of them ), there is a general approbation of the development.
Just roughly 30 kilometers away, however, a power plant project that can deliver 600 megawatts (MW) next year to the Luzon grid—which is more than enough to cover the power shortfall for the entire grid— has been handcuffed by the courts. Not only that. The petition to scrap the $1.2 billion power plant at the Subic Special Economic Zone, a project of utmost urgency and national importance, was stopped by the courts based on a case filed by supposed environmental crusaders who reportedly lifted their court pleadings from the Web.
A environmental petition drawn from a Web template, which assumed the pretentious name Writ of Kalikasan, impressed the courts. And as the country is careening dangerously into a critical power shortage next year—a development which can cause economic havoc and massive torture to the public – a power plant that could have been fast tracked to supply 600 MW of badly-needed power next year remains in virtual regulatory Hades.
Looking at the issues beyond the Web-based petition, the major power plant project would have an easy time getting the green light. RP Energy, the consortium that is putting up the plant is made up of the biggest names in the power sector. It is building the plant based on the “clean coal” concept, which is standard in major European countries with strict environmental standards. With the technical specs, the Environmental Compliance Certificate came handily, plus the lease agreement with the Subic management.
Yet, based on our valuation of things, the hard-core component of development, a major power plant project that would deliver national relief, gets the scorched-earth treatment while the development promising to build a new community for the super rich instantly gains approbation.
Indeed, this question has vexed us from time immemorial. As a people, what are our priorities? Why is the commitment to build a Forbes Park-type community welcome and acceptable? And why is a power plant project of real importance and urgency, a real solution to a looming crisis, and located in the same general area, scuttled by supposed environmentalists and the courts? The impossible shallowness of our discernment, and priorities, is unbearable.
Additional questions. From what muddled prism do we view the concept of development? Or, do we even look at the context that is supposed to shape a judgment, a view, a position on a public issue?
The green lighting of the Subic power plant becomes a national imperative if we just bothered to look into the broader context. With an addition of 600 MW into the Luzon grid next year, the deliberations in Congress on whether to grant President Aquino emergency powers to meet the looming power crisis becomes unnecessary.
An additional 600 MW of power injected into the Luzon grid will ease the crisis in 2015 and will give time to the government to plan ahead. President Aquino will no longer need emergency powers. There is no longer any need for the president to go back to the scorned provisions of the EPIRA to contract fresh power capacity.
Congress will be spared from the unnecessary task of debating on the merits—or demerits—of granting emergency powers to the President. Spared of this divisive task may push Congress to do more on social and economic legislation. Such as finding ways to amend the EPIRA and remove the basis for the emergency contracting (without public bidding and impervious to the rules) for the country’s power needs.
This is the hard truth. There is also zero economic sense in contracting fresh power supply under a state of emergency. It is like buying under duress. It would be costly—and the additional cost will have to be passed on to the consuming public.
The case of the stalled Subic power plant is representative of a lager malaise. On environmental cases, courts and LGUs often fail to rein in their enthusiasm to scuttle major and small investments through the overstretch of their powers. On handcuffed power projects, the result is predictable—acute shortage of much-needed megawatts. Then, the executive branch steps in, mostly through the invocation of emergency power. What takes place is a ruinous intersection of legislative overreach and executive overstretch.
On a smaller scale, certain towns and provinces in the country are now off-limits to poultry and hog raising ventures. Existing poultry and hog operations are denied of LGU permits despite operating in areas zoned as agricultural or agro-industrial. The reason: farms are accused of being major polluters and a menace to public good. And the result? Shortage of poultry and meat products.
Power plants, of course are the bigger, high profile targets. Despite understated projections that the power shortfall in the Luzon would hit 10,000 MW by 2030, the disdain toward power projects, even those that would be built on safe technology, is palpable.
And when you throw a rising class of phony crusaders for the environment into this deadly mix, you have a sad sack of a country that can’t even produce its own food and generate adequate power for households and industries.