How a small parish in Quezon took a giant leap for greener Philippines

Author: Darvin Tocmo  Date Posted:24 July 2018 


For almost a decade, the Our Lady of Angels Parish Church in Atimonan, Quezon has been waging a war on coal.

There has been a long history of active opposition led by the Church to coal-fired power plants in the province, dating back to 1995. Despite grassroots organizing and cooperation with the academe, mass organizations, and the media, power plants ended up being built in neighboring Mauban and Pagbilao.

The battle has since reached Atimonan, where residents are facing their biggest challenge yet: a 1,200-megawatt coal-fired power plant.

The coal plant is a project of Atimonan One Energy, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Meralco PowerGen Corporation (MGEN), the power generation arm of the country’s largest power distributor, Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

Monsignor Noel Villareal still recalls the first public hearing conducted by Atimonan One. The developers said the project would be for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, a proposal that the Church supported.

Later, the developers made an about-face: the new power plant would use coal instead.

“They gathered our support for an LNG plant, then they suddenly changed it to a coal plant, [for which] there was no public hearing,” said Ramon Grimaldo, a leader representing the town’s fishermen.

Since then, the issue has galvanized the Church to take the lead in opposing the project.

“It was 2009 when we started to express opposition against the coal-fired power plant in Atimonan. The Church utilized every resource it had to campaign against coal: we talked about it during our homilies in every church in the municipality, we are working with organizations who can echo our campaign,” said.


'Dirty, costly, and deadly'

MGEN and Atimonan One Energy say they really did contemplate an LNG project. "But it was changed into a coal plant instead because the company deemed it important to pursue a project that's faster to develop and has readily available fuel sources," said MGEN corporate communications officer Claire Feliciano.

"Also at that time, the DOE has yet to issue an LNG framework so there was uncertainty in the sector. The fuel cost for coal is cost-competitive. Gas prices are volatile based on historical data," she continued. "MGEN is not closing its doors on LNG and may still pursue LNG projects in the future."

The proposed coal-fired power plant in Atimonan is part of seven new power supply agreements (PSA) entered into by Meralco. A PSA is an agreement between a generation company and a distribution utility for the generation, purchase, and supply of power.

Collectively, these new PSAs will produce 3,551 megawatts of power from coal in the pipeline.

Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel and accounts for 43 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Philippines, as one of the countries that ratified the Paris Agreement, has vowed to reduce its emissions by 70 percent in a Business-As-Usual scenario by 2030.


Shift to renewable

In 2008, the Philippines enacted the Republic Act of 9513, an act “promoting the development, utilization, and commercialization of renewable energy resources.”

Mylene C. Capongcol, Director for Renewable Energy and Management Bureau of the Department of Energy (DOE), said that the government is working on increasing the country’s renewable energy portfolio.

“Since the enactment of the RE Law, there are about 1, 800 megawatts of renewable energy capacity that have been added to power generation capacities of the country. Aside from this, the DOE continues to receive applications for Renewable Energy Service Contracts (RESCs) for RE development. As of now, more than 1000 RESCs that have been awarded,” she explained.

The solarized Church and its moral obligation

To signify its commitment to clean energy, Our Lady of Angels Parish installed a five-kilowatt grid-tied solar energy system on the roof of the church.

“It is a small step but we want to show the people that clean energy is possible,” Villareal said.

Solar energy supplies power to the church, the convent, and the street lights within the church’s complex.

“The town was established by Franciscan priests in 1937 and we keep an oath to protect the Nature and the poor. We believe that any technology or development that harms the environment should be replaced with better alternatives—in this case, renewable energy,” he explained.

He expressed alarm over the recent killings of priests, but he said that he is not afraid.

“Being a priest comes with a lot of risks; everyone knows that. But I believe, as the late President Corazon Aquino said: ‘It is better to die a meaningful death than to live a meaningless life.’