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PH setting the pace in coal retirement

DESPITE how it has been portrayed in recent news reports, the Philippines is doing an admirable job of shifting away from a reliance on coal for power generation. A new report by Global Energy Monitor shows that while the Philippines technically ranked sixth in the world for new coal generating capacity in 2022, the development of coal in the country is “rapidly shrinking.”

“Coal plant proposals in the Philippines have been rapidly shrinking since the 2020 moratorium on plants for which the permitting process had not already begun, with capacity in pre-construction declining 84 percent from 10.1 gigawatts (GW) in 2019 to 1.6 GW in 2022,” the report said. The moratorium referred to was issued by the Duterte administration and has been maintained under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The reason for the Philippines' deceptively high ranking among countries in terms of new coal capacity was the commissioning of a single coal plant, the 1.3-GW Dinginin expansion of the Mariveles Power Plant in Bataan.

At present, the only new coal plants whose development and eventual commissioning are assured are two under construction, namely an additional 300-megawatt (MW) unit at the Mariveles plant and a second 135-MW unit at the Concepcion power plant in Iloilo. The prospects for the remaining 1.6 GW of pre-construction capacity are uncertain, the report explains, because “Estimated completion dates… have been steadily slipping in the Department of Energy's project listings.”

On a worldwide basis, Global Energy Monitor expressed serious concern that progress toward eliminating coal power is far too slow. Last month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed an “Acceleration Agenda,” which would see existing coal power completely phased out by 2030 in developed countries, and by 2040 in developing countries. The proposal has largely been ignored, however, because it is considered impossible to achieve. As of now, only about 420 GW of coal capacity, less than one-fourth the existing global capacity, is scheduled to be retired by 2040, and of that amount, 70 percent of it is within OECD countries while less than 7 percent is in developing countries.

By contrast, there is approximately 192 GW of new coal capacity currently under construction worldwide, with another 350 GW of new capacity proposed, meaning that instead of declining, coal power use is actually set to increase. Almost all of this momentum in the wrong direction can be attributed to China, which surpassed the rest of the world combined in pre-construction and capacity under construction in 2021. That gap widened in 2022, the report said, with capacity under development increasing by 38 percent in China (from 266 GW to 366 GW), while it decreased by 20 percent in the rest of the world (214 GW to 172 GW).

Rush to decommission

Against that backdrop, the Philippines' efforts to unwind its dependence on coal power are outstanding, and not, as some local news stories about the Global Energy Monitor report insinuated, a failure to live up to the country's emissions reduction and other climate targets. Ideally, coal and other forms of “dirty” electricity generation should be replaced with cleaner alternatives as quickly as possible, but that aspiration cannot ignore reality.

The experience of some European countries, particularly Germany, should be informative: A rush to decommission conventional power plants resulted in a scramble to secure adequate energy supplies — including putting some retired plants back into operation — after the shock caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The lesson here is that while keeping up the momentum toward a greener energy mix is an important priority, it should proceed at a sensible pace, keeping in mind the necessity of providing adequate supplies of electricity and maintaining some flexibility for unforeseen shocks.

It is unfortunate that some countries have apparently dispensed with any consideration of environmental sustainability in meeting their energy demands, and are erasing the gains made elsewhere through their policies. From our perspective, however, the Philippines is doing as much as it reasonably can to eliminate coal power without imposing unnecessary hardships on the people or the country's economy. As other forms of energy develop further and become available, the good trend already begun is likely to accelerate.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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