Date
24 July 2017
Environmental activist Gina Lopez, the Philippines' new environment chief, says her actions don't affect her family's power generation business. Photo: ABS-CBN
Environmental activist Gina Lopez, the Philippines' new environment chief, says her actions don't affect her family's power generation business. Photo: ABS-CBN

Philippines environment chief tightens screws on coal power

Renewable energy will get priority over fossil fuel in Philippine government approvals for new plants.

That means coal power will be low on the list, Bloomberg reports, citing Gina Lopez, the new energy minister.

Southeast Asia’s fastest growing economy should build wind, solar and geothermal projects to capitalize on falling costs and minimize emissions, Lopez said in her first extensive interviewed since being appointed to the rile by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Lopez said her family’s ties to renewable energy companies don’t affect her views.

Lopez, 62, whose office gives environmental approval for new power plants in the Philippines as it nearly doubles electricity generation by 2030, stopped short of promising to never approve a new coal-fired plant.

She said she would make decisions in consultation with the Department of Energy, which has said the Philippines will have to continue to rely on coal.

“Why allow more coal plants? Why commit to a form of energy that has no future?” Lopez told Bloomberg.

“I’m not keen on it. I’d have to be very convinced.”

Energy Department officials did not immediately respond to e-mails and phone calls for comment.

New Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi told a July 4 press briefing the country couldn’t afford to not use coal as it seeks to reduce electricity costs while finding a balance between adequate supply and protecting the environment.

“We have to find that balance, not everything can be renewable,” he said.

Coal accounted for 45 percent of the nation’s electricity output in 2015, with natural gas at 23 percent, according to Energy Department statistics.

Geothermal, hydro and other renewable sources accounted for about a quarter.

Plummeting costs for solar generation mean that if the Philippines commits to new coal plants now, it could be stuck paying higher prices for higher-emission power for the next two decades, Lopez said.

The cost of photovoltaic modules, the largest part of solar costs, has fallen from US$72 per watt in 1976 to 60 cents last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Costs will fall another 60 percent by 2040, BNEF said in its New Energy Outlook last month.

Lopez’s family own First Gen Corp. and Energy Development Corp., which both operate geothermal power generation in the Philippines.

Lopez said her family’s investments have no bearing on her decisions.

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