Errol Abada Gatumbato

Energy exploration and development in protected areas

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Several protected areas in the Philippines are now confronted with proposals for the exploration and development of energy resources. The Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental is one of these PAs being eyed for geothermal survey. Other PAs known to me that have similar energy issues with the NNNP are the Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro and the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park in Sorsogon. Although not officially listed as a PA but recognized as a key biodiversity area, Mt. Talinis, or Cuernos De Negros, is another site proposed for the expansion of a geothermal project in Negros Oriental.

IMG_3011

The NNNP accounts the largest remaining natural forest in Negros Island*

These energy proposals in PAs are actually not new, since geothermal projects already exist in the Mt. Kanla-on and Mt. Apo Natural Parks in Negros and Mindanao, respectively. However, circumstances on how these projects entered in the two PAs were different from the current status of the NNNP and all other declared natural parks and strict nature reserves, which are already placed under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, or Republic Act 7586.

 

IMG_4981.JPG

Bulusan Volcano Natural Park in Sorsogon is another protected area facing geothermal energy concern*

IMG_4983.JPG

Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro is also being eyed for geothermal energy development*

Geo-scientific study

I’ve learned from Provincial Environment and Management Office personnel of Negros Occidental that the Lopez-controlled Energy Development Corp. has presented its proposed geo-scientific study to the NNNP Technical Working Group. The EDC has similarly sought endorsement for this proposed study from different local government units in the province. The EDC has an existing geothermal service contract with the Department of Energy covering Mount Mandalagan, a thickly forested mountain range that accounts for a large part of the NNNP. Reportedly, about 20 megawatts of geothermal energy can be sourced out from the site, but it is only an initial estimate based on available information. This is probably the reason why it is necessary for the EDC to conduct further study in NNNP.

This proposed study, once implemented, would not in anyway entail damages to the environment and biodiversity of the NNNP. A geo-scientific study does not involve use of heavy equipment, landscape alteration, cutting of trees, wildlife displacement, and other disturbances. Moreover, geothermal is a renewable resource and clean energy source that may be able to substitute non-renewable and dirty sources of power.

Important considerations

It should be understood, however, that the NNNP is a declared PA. Several provisions of

IMG_2641.JPG

NNNP is a declared protected area under the NIPAS*

the NIPAS Act require serious considerations before any decision is made on the EDC proposal. Aside from legal concerns that maybe subjected to numerous interpretations, we need to discern and evaluate, too, the very purpose of establishing a PA, and how valuable it is in terms of biological diversity, ecosystem services, and other crucial and long-term benefits it offers to the environment and people.

It is not a question of choosing between “the devil and the deep blue sea”, or “the good and the bad”, just like these sayings usually imply once we are pressed with difficult choices and decisions. This is a matter of exploring more viable options and alternatives so we can both address the maintenance of ecological balance for our survival and common good, and the pressing requirements of renewable energy sources that will not destroy our natural environment.

It is very vital to take into account ecological concerns, especially in areas where natural ecosystems are already badly impaired and require immediate rehabilitation. Negros, for instance, had lost most of its natural forests, and where a good number of endemic species of flora and fauna is highly threatened, some of which are restricted only to this newly declared region of the Philippines.

In my opinion and understanding, having been provided with the opportunity to work in several PAs for the past two decades, and to participate in some deliberations and consultations on the proposed NIPAS Act, before it was enacted into law in June 1992, it is the intention of RA 7586 to spare PAs categorized as a strict nature reserve or natural park from energy study or survey, exploration, and utilization. The energy development in PAs was one of the contentious issues taken up during the drafting and consultations of the proposed NIPAS Act almost three decades ago.

NIPAS Act energy provisions

Framers and authors of the NIPAS Act provided adequate measures to safeguard declared natural parks and strict nature reserves from energy exploration and utilization, as they included a specific prohibition on energy surveys in these sites. Section 14 of the NIPAS Act articulates, “Consistent with the policies declared in Section 2, hereof, protected areas, except strict nature reserves and natural parks, may be subjected to exploration only for the purpose of gathering information on energy resources and only if such activity is carried out with the least damage to surrounding areas”.

The same section of the NIPAS Act further states, “Surveys shall be conducted only in accordance with a program approved by the DENR, and the result of such surveys shall me made available to the public and submitted to the President for recommendation to Congress. Any exploitation and utilization of energy resources found within the NIPAS areas shall be allowed only through a law passed by Congress”. These two last sentences of section 15 of RA 7586 seemingly refer to protected areas that are not categorized as a strict nature reserve or natural park. The NIPAS Act offers other PA categories where energy exploration may be allowed.

Section 15 underscored the policy declaration set forth in Section 2, which claims, “It is the policy of the state to secure for the Filipino people of present and future generations the perpetual existence of all native plants and animals through the establishment of a comprehensive system of integrated protected areas within the classification of national park as provided in the Constitution”.

The policy declaration acknowledges the profound impacts of human activities to all components of the natural environment, citing the effects of increasing population, resource exploitation, and industrial advancement, while clearly recognizing “the critical importance of protecting and maintaining the natural biological and physical diversities of the environment, notably on areas with biologically unique features to sustain human life and development, as well as plant and animal life”.

NIPAS Act intention

With these enunciations of RA 7586, it is clear that surveys for energy should not be allowed in natural parks. Some may claim that a geo-scientific study is different from exploration. If I will make a reference to what I’ve learned from various presentations of the EDC, it is true, because exploration, in the parlance of energy companies, involves locating energy reserves and drilling. However, “exploration”, as being referred to in the NIPAS Act, means the gathering of information on energy resources. I am wondering if the proposed geo-scientific study of the EDC will not entail generating data on energy resources in the NNNP. Given the existing geothermal service contract of the EDC with the DOE covering Mt. Mandalagan, the proposed study presumably would include survey on geothermal resources in the area.

Regardless of the associated provision of RA 7586 granting authority to Congress to pass a

IMG_4980

The critically endangered Negros bleeding-heart pigeon exists in the NNNP. PBCFI Photo*

law for any exploitation and utilization of energy resources found within the NIPAS sites, it is doubtful how the lawmaking processes will proceed if prior gathering of detailed information on the potential energy resources at the targeted natural park or strict nature reserve has never been allowed. It is precisely the motivation why the NIPAS Act prohibits gathering of information on energy resources in natural parks and strict nature reserves, because it aims to protect these areas for the ultimate goal of “securing for the Filipino people the perpetual existence of all native plants and animals,” and not for any form of energy exploration and development, either it is renewable or not, or with least damage to the environment.

Mounts Apo and Kanla-on

One may further ask why geothermal utilization was allowed then in Mt. Apo and later on in Mt. Kanla-on (then spelled Canlaon)? When the geothermal reservation was sliced from the Mt. Apo National Park in 1992, it was only a few months before the NIPAS Act was enacted. On the other hand, Mt. Kanla-on was not yet declared as a natural park when the former government-controlled Philippine National Oil Corporation-EDC proposed its geothermal project in the area. In fact, it was the main reason why the PNOC-EDC insisted and worked hard for the exclusion of its proposed geothermal site from the proclamation of the MKNP in 1998.

12801354_10153319044115812_5731656593171921701_n

A buffer zone for geothermal energy development was included in the declaration of the MKNP as protected area*

NNNP declaration

Presidential Proclamation 895 declared the former Northern Negros Forest Reserve as a protected area under the category of a natural park, and it is now called the NNNP. The NNNP has an estimated land area of about 80,454.50 hectares, covering Mounts Marapara, Canlandog, Silay, and Mandalagan in the northern part of Negros Occidental. It is being managed in accordance with the NIPAS Act, as mandated by its proclamation.

Extractive resource uses are not allowed in natural parks, and supposedly, they are being maintained to protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international significance for scientific, educational, and recreational purposes. The biological and ecological values are important factors for the NNNP’s designation as a natural park.

The PA has the largest remaining intact forests in Negros Island, and where limited and yet biologically diverse lowland forests still exist. It is habitat to numerous endemic species, and accounts for several ecosystems that provide various ecological services, such as watershed and carbon sink. It helps mitigate the impacts of natural hazards and risks, like heavy flooding, landslides, and soil erosion, among others. Its potential for nature-based tourism could not be understated, because it has several scenic and beautiful attractions.

Geothermal development impacts

The valuation and accounting of the NNNP’s ecological services may likely outweigh the benefits from 20 megawatts of geothermal energy that may be generated from this area. Geothermal is a clean source of energy, but its development entails adverse impacts to the environment. In Mounts Kanla-on and Apo, geothermal development involved forest clearing, since specific sites where geothermal can be sourced out were forested. Access roads, which connected the different drilling pads, were constructed to tap the geothermal energy. Clearing was further done in every one-hectare drilling pad and plant site.

The consequence of forest clearing is the loss of vegetation comprising not only of trees, but other native floral species and organisms, too. Once forest is cleared, it will dislocate faunal species that used to inhabit there, and further add threats to the endangered wildlife in surrounding areas. It will affect the source of our water, since the forest and its immediate environs are natural water reservoirs. Geothermal development will ultimately alter and modify nature designed and created landscapes.

Other major issues

The NNNP is already facing numerous issues. More than half of its area is now heavy with permanent settlement and agriculture, community centers, and infrastructures, to name a few. There are pending proposals to exclude certain parts of the PA for declaration as alienable and disposable lands, and relocation site for rebel returnees. Several private vacation houses and resorts were constructed in the area without permits. These challenges have yet to be resolved, and here comes the proposal on geothermal energy. Do we want to maintain the NNNP as a PA, or do we want to disestablish it for other purposes? The disestablishment of the NNNP as a PA is still an option, if we don’t care enough for the remaining gifts and wonders of nature found in NNNP, and the associated benefits they offer to present and future generations.

Energy requirements

How about the pressing needs of energy today and in the future? Shall we continue relying on fossilized and other non-renewable energy sources? Are there no other viable renewable energy resources, except geothermal? Arlene Infante, an entrepreneur who is privy on energy issues, has only this to say, “ Our solar farms are sprouting like mushrooms, and we don’t need to compromise our last remaining forests and water source.”

Lawyer Eli Gatanila, a realtor who also follows energy development in Negros Occidental, provided me with a list of solar energy projects in the province, and they are quite promising. Based on the list, there are already four operational solar power plants with a combined capacity of 261.6 megawatts in Negros Occ., while two others, with a total capacity estimate of 80 megawatts, are under construction. Can we not rely on these power sources? I am sure there are pros and cons between geothermal and solar energies, but one good thing in solar power plant was no forest clearing has been done on its development in Negros Occidental.EAG*

August 10, 2016 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Ecosystems, Energy Development, Forest Ecosystem, Mt. Kanla-on, Protected Areas, Renewable Energy, Species Conservation, Uncategorized, Watershed | Leave a comment

Why coal when renewable energy is feasible?

Image

Map courtesy of Negros Occidental Provincial Planning and Development Office*

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

It is very interesting that San Carlos City in northern Negros Occidental province is now maximizing the potential of renewable energy as a major source of power. In fact, it is not only San Carlos that will benefit from it, because it is expected that the energy produced in the three renewable energy plants in the city will also be fed into the national power grid. This leads me to ask why some local officials are still promoting and insisting on the development of non-renewable coal-fired energy plants when, in fact, renewable energy is feasible in Negros Occidental?

The construction of the 35-hectare solar farm is now ongoing and it is expected to produce 22 megawatts of electricity. As the name itself implies, solar energy is sourced from sunlight and it is considered as one of the cleanest sources of energy that will not contribute to carbon emission. The two other power plants in San Carlos City are the bio-ethanol and the biomass plants. Although the bio-ethanol plant primarily produces ethanol (a biofuel mixed with gasoline for cars) out of sugarcane, it can also generate electricity. On the other hand, the biomass power plant uses wastes from sugarcanes to produce electricity.

Coal is considered a non-renewable resource because it is only good for as long as its supplies last. The burning of coal to produce energy is known to tremendously emit carbon in the atmosphere, which is not only detrimental to the environment, but to the health of the people, too. It is therefore necessary that officials, from the province to cities and towns in Negros Occidental, reconsider their position in energy development.

The Environment Code of Negros Occidental, that was enacted by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in 2005, clearly provides that the energy development in the province “shall be pursued in a manner that will not degrade the state of the environment.” This is stipulated in Section 80 of the Code that further states, “As such, preference will be on the development of renewable power sources.”

The Code envisioned that Negros Occidental should be supplied 100 percent with renewable energy that would lead to the decommissioning of non-renewable energy plants in the province. I am not sure if the provincial government has already mapped out potential sources of renewable energy in Negros Occidental. The Environment Code mandates that one year after its enactment, the province shall prepare a map of potential renewable energy sources. It also stipulates, “Based on the data available, a renewable energy development plan shall be prepared primarily to identify the areas and communities that can be serviced adequately by renewable energy sources and to identify the strategy to tap potentials.”

At this point in time, when the use of carbon and other greenhouse gases is being discouraged, and, in fact, should be eliminated, it is only logical that potential sources of renewable energy be identified and sourced. These gases constitute the volume of emission in the atmosphere and destroy the ozone layer, which shields the Earth from the direct heat of sunlight and helps regulate the climatic pattern of the world. Unfortunately, the damage to the ozone layer is already irreversible and it is being viewed as one major factor that contributes to the phenomenon of climate change. (This article was also published in the Visayan Daily Star, 06 January 2014 issue)*

January 21, 2014 Posted by | Renewable Energy | Leave a comment

Is there a need for EDC to encroach further in MKNP?

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Forest clearing of the geothermal energy development project in Mount Kanla-on*

The pronouncement of the Lopez-controlled Energy Development Corporation to temporarily shut down its geothermal operations at the buffer zone of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Occidental had confirmed earlier speculations that it is not doing well in sourcing out geothermal energy from the area.  Reportedly, the EDC is only generating about six megawatt of geothermal energy, which is far below from its earlier target of generating about 40 megawatt. The EDC (formerly the Philippine National Oil Corporation-Energy Development Corporation) lobbied for the exclusion of 169 hectares from the original boundary of the MKNP to become a buffer zone for its geothermal development.  In numerous public consultations several years back, the EDC had justified its encroachment to the protected area as the only way to generate 40 megawatt of geothermal energy.

It is quite astounding that after investing a huge amount of money and inflicting environmental destruction and damages to the

To give way for geothermal energy development*

natural conditions of the area where it currently operates, the EDC will conduct technical evaluation as to the viability of its operations at the buffer zone of MKNP. The EDC forged technical agreements with experts from the United States and New Zealand to conduct the evaluation in the next nine months. This development creates doubts as to the purpose and intent of this technical evaluation since it should have been carried out before. Is this another bold step of the EDC in justifying its further encroachment to the MKNP?

I can’t help but to make my own assumption because of the fact that the original proposal of the then PNOC-EDC was to slice about 1,850 hectares from the original boundary of MKNP.  However, the proposal was later on reduced to 1,437 hectares because portions of the proposed area is within the strict protection zone, as indicated in the initial protected area plan of MKNP, which was also approved by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1005 in 1998.  During the legislative processes for the final declaration of Mount Kanla-on as a protected area through congressional approval, the EDC was forced to reduce its proposed area to 169 hectares.   It was a sort of a compromise deal since EDC was claiming that out of the proposed area only about 100 hectares will be used actually for geothermal development.  The Committee on Environment and Natural Resources of the House of Representatives then required the EDC to conduct delineation survey for the area it actually needs so that the approval of the proposed bill for MKNP will clearly indicate the geothermal development site.

Landscape alteration in Mount Kanla-on*

While geothermal is a clean energy, its development usually incurs landscape alteration and habitat destruction. The EDC has already cleared about 29 hectares of natural forest at the buffer zone of MKNP. The cleared forest was part of the natural habitat of various species of flora and fauna some of which are already declared as threatened species.  The EDC has been required to conduct a detailed study on the floral and faunal composition of the area subject of its operations. The findings of the study had confirmed the presence of threatened endemic species, including the discovery of the equally threatened Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower.

This is not the first time that this geothermal project in Mount Kanla-on stirred speculations. Amidst protest actions and vehement objections from environmental groups on the approval of RA 9154 in 2001, local newspapers and radio stations in Bacolod City bannered a story on September 6, 2001 that the PNOC-EDC will no longer enter MKNP for geothermal energy development, and will instead concentrate its operations outside the protected area. Then PNOC-EDC chairperson Sergio Apostol made such pronouncement.

The Expansion of energy development at the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park necessitates the enactment of another law by the Congress, as provided in Republic Act 9154.  This provision of the MKNP Act is patterned after the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or RA 7586, which similarly prohibits energy development in a protected area without congressional approval. If the EDC shall be allowed to encroach further in MKNP it would again result to additional forest clearing, biodiversity and habitat loss, and landscape alteration since the upper portions where it operates now are still heavily forested. However, I am not certain when EDC expands its current operations require a new Environmental Impact Assessment because its Environmental Clearance Certificate is already covering the entire area it proposed earlier.

The issue of geothermal development in Mount Kanla-on has been dragging for almost two decades now.  Several groups are still opposing it primarily due to forest destruction and other related concerns associated with geothermal energy development.  There is still a pending case in court questioning the legality of RA 9154. I am not sure if this pending court case would affect the filing of another bill for the expansion of the EDC operations in Mount Kanla-on.

It is quite unfortunate that Mount Kanla-on is the subject of this controversy. Geothermal is a clean energy but its development is at the expense of our biological diversity. It should be noted that Mount Kanla-on is one of the 128 Key Biodiversity Areas, an important endemic bird area, and one of the 18 centers of plant diversity in the Philippines. It is also included in the Alliance for Zero Extinction due to a good number of endemic threatened species present in the protected area that are already in the brink of extinction in the wild. In fact numerous endemic species are also found in the area where the EDC is now operating. The protection of the remaining forests of MKNP is of paramount importance to the survival of the different endemic species and maintenance of the watershed and other ecological services.

December 20, 2010 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas, Renewable Energy, Watershed | 2 Comments

Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation promotes community based renewable energy

Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation promotes community based renewable energy

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

One of the critical concerns about the climate change is the tremendous volume of carbon emissions, due to widespread use of fossilized fuels as main sources of energy. Carbon and other so called greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, and destroy the ozone layer that helps regulate the natural climatic pattern of the different parts of the world. It is by this account that there are now global initiatives in maximizing the use of renewable and sustainable energy to avert further deterioration of the ozone layer.

The destruction of the ozone layer is already an irreversible damage and it started to bring some catastrophic circumstances just like the recent typhoons that wrought unimaginable devastation in Luzon, Philippines. Experts say we have to brace ourselves for most unlikely calamities that may happen due to climate change phenomenon. It is therefore necessary that measures undertaken to minimize the impacts of this situation.

The Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation in Negros Occidental, one of the pioneering conservation organizations in the Philippines, continues to respond with the demands and needs of current times, not only through the implementation of conservation projects, but including providing direct benefits to local communities. In a joint initiative with the Talisay City government, NFEFI facilitated the construction of a mini-hydro power plant at the foot of the North Negros Natural Park in Sitio Campuestohan, Brgy. Cabatangan in Talisay City, Negros Occ. The construction of this mini-hydro power plant was also in partnership with the Barangay Cabatangan Council, the Cabatangan Farmers Multi-purpose Cooperative and the Campuestohan Upland Farmers Association.

The switch-on ceremony of the power plant was held recently with Talisay City Mayor Eric Saratan, and other city and barangay officials gracing the event.  Representatives from NFEFI, Central Negros Electric Cooperative and Bacolod City Water District also witnessed the ceremony.

In this mini-hydro plant, the power is generated when flowing water passes over a waterwheel, which drives a turbine. It provides some 5 KVA of electrical power for about 40 households in the community. The water supply comes from the Caliban River and Pula Creek where a mini dam was constructed in the early 1990s for irrigation needs of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program beneficiaries in Sitio Mambucano, Barangay Cabatangan in Talisay City.

“A reliable source of electricity is going to make a great deal of difference to villagers in Campuestohan”, said NFEFI chairperson Paul Lizares. The technology is well-proven and is especially suitable in frontier barangays where there is sufficient volume of water flowing from springs, rivers, streams and canals.  “Motor-driven generators that require fossil fuels are expensive and not good for the environment whereas using a natural renewable energy source like flowing water, is a win-win for everyone”, Lizares added.

The cost of installing a mini-hydro unit is relatively cheap and affordable for local government units, according to NFEFI. The assembly uses simple materials and its operation, maintenance and repair can be easily handled by the community after brief hands-on skills training.

Speaking at the switching-on ceremony, Saratan said: “We are delighted this dream has become a reality. With so much flowing water in the upland there are endless possibilities for further mini-hydro projects.”

This project offers a good example on how we should be able to harness the use of our natural resources to abate environmental problems while providing benefits to communities. This would also encourage local folks to rehabilitate and protect the watershed so that the watery supply for the mini-hydro power plant shall be sustained in the long term. 

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Renewable Energy | 4 Comments