energy industry

[OPINION] We need a break…from higher oil and electricity prices

John Leo C. Algo
[OPINION] We need a break…from higher oil and electricity prices
'Our country must use this summer predicament with dirty energy as a basis to further develop our renewable energy resources and enhance energy security and self-sufficiency'

Brace yourselves: (an expensive) summer is coming.

Our lives for the next few months will not just be affected by the election season. The prices of diesel and gasoline have steadily risen every week this year. Our electricity rates are already among the highest in Asia. 

As if the burden for us consumers is not already more than enough, more price hikes are happening soon.

Diesel and gasoline prices could rise by as much as P12 and P9 per liter, respectively, per industry sources. These massive increases are the result of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, one of the world’s leading oil producers. With economic sanctions imposed by some developed countries, rates in the Philippines, a net oil importer, have responded to pricier products in the global market.

That said, prices of gasoline, diesel, and other oil products are already significantly higher than before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While rates initially dropped due to the lockdowns and the resulting decrease in demand for oil products, they eventually increased as the global and national economies recovered for the past two years. This is amplified by the weakening of the value of peso to dollar, another impact of said health crisis.

Meanwhile, Meralco has already advised the public to expect more increases in power rates in the coming months. Aside from the peso depreciation and higher fuel prices, the usual rise in energy demand during the summer months and the planned maintenance outages of some coal-fired power plants are also cited as reasons for this development.

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But wait, there’s more! Some of the coal plants, which currently supply more than half of the national power generation, are old, which makes them prone to unscheduled shutdowns that threaten our electricity supply. Coal, like oil, is also mostly imported from other nations, leaving local rates just as sensitive to developments in the global market. 

In other words, we consumers have to worry about not only higher electricity costs, but also a potential shortage in power supply during the hottest months of the year. 

These trends show us the need to urgently shun the old normal defined by our addiction to fossil fuels. During times of crises, our prolonged dependence on dirty energy from coal and oil would lead to more costs than just higher expenses. 

Prices of basic commodities such as rice, meat, fruits, and vegetables would also increase. Workers that have welcomed back face-to-face engagements may have to rely once more on the work-from-home set-up. Families planning summer vacations may have to rethink their budgets. The sense of normality that was slowly returning in the daily lives of many Filipinos could be taken away again.

On a larger scale, the pandemic has exposed how insecure our energy sector is. The inflexibility of our power grids and our heavy dependence on imported fuels have made our energy systems, and consequently our economy, vulnerable to drastic price hikes. 

This is not to mention how the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable countries to man-made climate change, is ironically too reliant on fossil fuels, the very cause of this crisis. 

And who suffers the worst of the impacts of the inability of our leaders to break our nation free from dirty energy? It is the poorest and marginalized members of our society who would be trapped even more in unjust living conditions like unaffordable fuels and goods, power outages, and potential damages from extreme weather events.

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We need true leadership

Our country must use this summer predicament with dirty energy as a basis to further develop our renewable energy resources and enhance energy security and self-sufficiency. The next set of elected government officials must prioritize the development of cleaner, more sustainable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower for a more flexible, consumer-friendly power sector. 

We also need to see our leaders commit to avoiding false solutions. This includes natural gas, which is currently being pushed by many as a transition fuel as our nation tries to phase out coal-fired power plants. Yet natural gas is a fossil fuel, like coal and oil, that currently needs to be imported. Investing in this energy source would only lead us to the same issues we are experiencing now.

The public has also been advised to practice energy conservation measures to save costs. Actions such as riding bicycles, travel using public modes of transportation, and reducing use of electronic devices could lead to more savings and other health co-benefits for individuals and households. 

That said, we consumers cannot always be expected to be the ones to sacrifice due to the failure of our leaders to implement the proper policies and solutions. At some point, our government needs to live up to its mandates and lead in implementing an urgent, just transition away from the era of fossil fuels and avoid false solutions like nuclear power.

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We need leadership that would initiate the improvement of public transport and active mobility infrastructures, instead of merely responding when a crisis occurs. We need leadership that would fully and effectively implement green laws, promote divestment from fossil fuels, and invest in genuine sustainable solutions instead of waiting more than a decade to do so, like what has happened with the Renewable Energy Law. 

We need leadership that has long-term vision for energy security, climate resilience, and sustainable development instead of merely providing billions worth of subsidies that are quick fixes at best. We need leadership that listens to the cries of the earth and the poor over the demands of corporations, who still earn billions during crises while everybody else loses.

More importantly, what we need is a break from higher prices, from fossil fuels, and from excuses. Like a break from a toxic relationship, we’d be much better off without them. –

John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, a member of the Withdraw from Coal network. He has been representing Philippine civil society in regional and global UN conferences on climate and the environment since 2017. He is a climate and environment journalist since 2016.

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