Aquino inaugurates large-scale solar energy plant

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It's the first large-scale, government-commissioned and commercially-financed solar power plant in the country under the Aquino administration.

President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday, May 15, inaugurated the San Carlos Solar Energy, Inc (SACASOL) in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, a power plant that he said is "making history."

"Because of this new project, the Visayas grid will benefit from an additional 22 MW – all while SACASOL displaces carbon emissions equivalent to the emissions produced by 14,805 tons of oil for each year of operations," he said.

"It serves as a shining example of the collective steps we are taking to minimize climate risk – the fruit of our efforts to ensure that future generations will not be subject to the same vulnerabilities as we are now."

The inauguration of the solar energy power plant comes amid continuous power problems in key regions in the country, as well as rising electricity bills.

Aquino hailed the project, expected to supply daytime peak power to the local grid, as a successful partnership between the public and private sector.

Partnering with private sector

The government partnered with Thomas Lloyd and Bronzeoak Philippines Inc., companies that specialize in renewable energy project development and financing, to make SACASOL possible.

Addressing its private partners, Aquino said, "With your help, we are proving to the world: even developing countries such as ours can do their share in reducing the risks posed by global warming."

"And we are doing this even at a time when the development of solar power plants remains more expensive than that of plants fueled by traditional sources of energy," he said.

The need to turn to renewable energy, was further highlighted by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), Aquino said, which battered the Visayas and cut off power in affected areas for months.

"Not only did it challenge us to build back better more resilient communities, and to improve our disaster response mechanisms, it also underscored the adverse effects of climate change and showed the world the new normal of increasingly frequent and intense storms," Aquino said.

Limitations

While Aquino praised the development, he did however acknowledge the limitations of using renewable energy admitting "there is a need for government to manage the energy mix, from which the cost of power is derived."

"Unfortunately, renewable energy is still the most expensive component. It follows that if our entire energy mix is derived from renewable sources, then the price of electricity – which people are already complaining about today – will rise even more," he said.

"Government therefore has to strike a balance between this, and our desire to attract more investments in renewable energy."

Speaking to reporters after his speech, Aquino said the government hopes to increase renewable energy components "so as we can ensure the the rise of electricity prices will be minimal."

Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla explained they are looking into increasing the country's 50 megawatt cap to 500 megawatts, to allow companies interested in building renewable power plants to do so.

"We are seeing it's really viable… and the investors, at the same time, some of them are actually just waiting for the quota to be increased. The others are ready already," he said, pointing out that SACASOL only started construction in October.

Call to investors

The President also announced that the construction of other power plants – including traditional energy sources, geothermal, hydropower, wind, and biomass – are underway for the Visayas Grid alone, which are expected for commissioning this year until 2016. Those plants have committed a capacity of 591.60 MW.

In 2013, the available capacity of the Visayas Grid was 1,678MW, with an average peak demand of 1,390MW.

He said there are "adequate reserves" now, but added demand is expected to rise in the following years.

"Given the current economic momentum of the country, we cannot be content with present conditions; we also have to plan for the future. Peak demand is projected to increase with sustained growth—especially since we expect dividends from peace in Mindanao, which will have a corresponding effect on inter-regional trade," he said,

"On top of that, the recent resurgence of the Philippines will only continue to add to the confidence of investors from all over the globe. A strong energy surplus will also be an important factor, as we explore the possibility of connecting the Mindanao grid to the Luzon and Visayas grids."

He then encouraged investors to partner with the government, and to avoid what he called "the wait-and-see mindset," wherein companies are only willing to follow and invest, after others have proven the profitability of such ventures.

"I should warn you: by that point, you may no longer be entitled to any of the incentives government is currently offering," he said.

New bridge

After the inauguration of SACASOL, Aquino headed to Sagay City in Bacolod for yet another inauguration – this time of the new Himoga-an Bridge and a 3,416 kilometer access road.

The new 105-meter bridge, is part of a major highway linking the south and north side of Negros, which is the primary route used by trucks to haul sugarcanes from Bacolod City.

A result of renovating the old one, the new bridge cost the government P313 million.

"Compared to the old bridge, there's no question this road is safer because we have ensured its high quality and a stronger foundation," he said.

The President said the new bridge and road – which shortens travel time of commuters from the North going to Bacolod City by about 20 minutes – would also help bring life to the local economy.

"Because of this bridge, the transport of sugar canes to various parts of the province heading to this sugar mill in Sagay City will be quicker and easier. It will surely help decrease the cost of production," he said.

"We will also be able to generate tourism in Sagay because it will be easier to reach destinations like Carbin Reef and Molocaboc Insland." - Rappler.com