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[OPINION] Burning bridges to nowhere

[OPINION] Burning bridges to nowhere

A sign outside a parish church in the Diocese of San Carlos asking financial institutions to divest from coal investments and instead consider renewable energy projects. OPHM SOCCOM

By Bishop Gerardo Alminaza

July 30, 2022

San Carlos City, Negros Occidental

They call it “natural” gas.

In the explainer by the United States Energy Information Administration, natural gas is defined as “a fossil energy source that formed deep beneath the earth’s surface.” Like oil and coal. They are made up of “the remains of plants and animals (such as diatoms) built up in thick layers on the earth’s surface and ocean floors, sometimes mixed with sand, silt, and calcium carbonate.” Like oil and coal. It is found by drilling it from the earth and from the seafloor. Like oil and coal. And the burning of “natural” gas emits “nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), trace amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2), and particulate matter (PM).” Like oil and coal.

Considering that “natural” gas is made, found, and used in the same way as oil and coal, it really is just as natural as any other form of fossil fuel. But proponents of “natural” gas call it that because they want it to sound cleaner than other fossil fuels. After all, “fossil gas,” though more accurate, sounds as dirty and deadly as it actually is.

This is why it is quite alarming how some of our local officials are welcoming the construction of a 300-megawatt (MW) liquefied natural gas (LNG) combined cycle power plant in barangays Punao and Palampas here in San Carlos. The LNG plant is being proposed by Reliance Energy Development, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of SMC Global Power Holdings Corp, the same corporation who wants to build a coal-fired power plant in our city.

While recognizing that there are some of us who are opposing the proposed plant, their argument for not objecting to the LNG is the fact that LNG is allowed by the National Government. Moreover, our opposition to such project is deemed to be selfish.

It makes one wonder what is so selfish about stopping an energy project which would destroy our environment and pollute our atmosphere. Is it selfish to not only think about short-term profits, and consider the cost of drilling and burning fossil fuels to our air, land, and water supply as well as its effects on the livelihood of our fisher folks? Or is it selfish to oppose the LNG plant if by doing so we safeguard the environment and climate for future generations?

Furthermore, their mindset is that no one who uses fossil fuels in their homes or transportation has the right to criticize while using such energy sources. It is true that we all use energy from the same dirty energy sources. That at present, there is virtually no escape from fossil fuels. But that precisely is the point. The People want more choices. We want better choices.

At present, RE technology and RE investments are on the rise, including in Southeast Asia. RE technology and infrastructure which have relatively lower impact on the environment, do not require the use of dirty, imported, or mined fossil fuels, are quicker and easier to build, while also producing green and sustainable jobs. But while we all want the choice to abandon dirty, costly energy, RE projects and investments will not come here if they see that local governments are more inclined to greenlight fossil gas projects. For us to have more renewable energy and the choice to disconnect from dirty energy, it would take the commitment and initiative of our elected officials.

Can we believe that our so-called public servants can do nothing to stop the plant? They said the same thing about the coal-fired power plant years ago. But like coal and LNG, renewable energy is also being allowed – even promoted more intensively – by the National Government. This means that local policymakers still have a choice on the kind of energy they will support. So the real question is: Why LNG and not more RE?

Promoters of LNG say that because LNG is more efficient than coal, it is the ideal “transition fuel” to more renewable energy in the future. However, this has been doubted by scientists and energy experts from academia and the industry. According to the environmental economists from the University of Texas at Austin, market projections show that LNG will not serve as a bridge to more RE, but will be contractually locked for a long period of time. According to climate scientists in Cornell, the amount of leakage in the production of methane leads to equal, if not more, emissions than in coal or oil. And according to Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the burning of the greenhouse gas methane in LNG will make it impossible to reach climate goals.

The science is clear: if the LNG plant pushes through, we will continue to have no choice but to destroy the environment for the sake of energy. Fossil gas will not lead us to more renewable energy. Those who tell us are either sincerely misinformed or deliberately lying. And to insist that something is true for the sake of pride and profit, despite evidence and facts: that is selfishness.

We agree that we should not be selfish. This is why we should not only think of profit, but also consider the effects of policies and programs on the environment. We should not only think of ourselves in the present, but future generations who will be paying the real cost of this addiction to fossil fuels. Give the people the choice to use more renewable energy and we will gladly cut off connections to dirty energy like coal and LNG. But we cannot do that if our leaders continue to make excuses on why they either cannot act or cannot do the right thing.

Fortunately, there is still time to act. There is still time to change course. When your house is burning, you try to put it out; you don’t turn on the gas. The only real bridge to more RE is more RE. If our leaders so choose, we can cross that bridge now. But we cannot do that if we continue to take fake paths from the same intentions, with the same excuses, as before.

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos is the vice-chairperson of Caritas Philippines and convenor of REpower Negros.

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