San Carlos prelate, groups air worries over LNG project

The public scoping of a 300 MW liquified natural gas (LNG) combined cycle power plant in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental held Wednesday was met with alarm from local stakeholders and energy advocacy groups concerned by environmental and economic implications of a fossil fuel project entering the country’s renewable energy (RE) capital.

The project is proposed by Reliance Energy Development Inc. (REDI), a wholly owned subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

“I’d like to understand why we are seeking to add a fossil fuel powered plant here in an island that is teeming with renewable power. Existing renewable energy facilities today are not even fully maximized by Negrosanons, and yet we would be adding 300 MW more of new capacity. By using fossil gas, this plant goes against the hope of Negros becoming 100% renewable energy powered,” said San Carlos Bishop Gerry Alminaza, convenor of broad clean energy consortium REpower Negros, who had earlier written to SMC president Ramon Ang calling for a stop to the project.

Youth advocates meanwhile point out that Negros, which boasts of an installed generation capacity of nearly 100% renewable energy, has an imperative to maintain its status as an RE hub given its vulnerability to impacts of rising global temperatures due to fossil fuel emissions.

“Typhoon Odette did not spare Negros from its wrath even though we mainly produce clean energy. In the face of a raging climate crisis, we need to ramp up the decarbonization of all sectors of society, especially energy. A new fossil gas plant is in complete contradiction to this,” said Paul Serrano, convenor of Youth for Climate Hope (Y4CH).

A youth organization actively promoting climate justice and action, Y4CH was among the groups instrumental in derailing a coal plant proposed in the same city in 2019 – the fifth battle won by Negrosanons against coal in the last two decades.

“Today’s Negrosanon youth are inheritors of a legacy of victories against fossil fuels – a legacy that the generations before us protected. The stakes are even higher now. We will do our best to guard the hope of a clean energy future,” said Bianca Montilla, Y4CH co-convenor.

The Php 18.5B LNG plant, which would be sitting in the San Carlos Ecozone facing the Tanon Strait and features four 75 MW generators and its own receiving and LNG regasification facility, targets to begin construction by the third quarter of this year.

“Will local consumers actually benefit from this project? If REDI-SMC intends to get their fuel supply from far-off suppliers, will that not make electricity from the power plant costly? Is it worth exposing the Tanon strait to disturbance and pollution? We have too many questions surrounding this project, which make it harder to make sense of why we can’t just focus on further developing the renewable energy resources we already have,” said Grid Alila of Konsyumer Negros.

With worries mounting, concerned groups had asked for the public scoping to be postponed as no information and education campaign (IEC) required of REDI-SMC reached them prior to its conduct.

“As the DENR requires, the IEC should at the minimum have among its audience local church constituents, interest groups, and nearby households and industries. These are legitimate stakeholders who stand to be impacted by the development of an LNG plant in San Carlos. We have reason to believe that this was not what happened, as we’ve heard from a significant number of stakeholders who are not aware of any such IEC,” explained Atty. Avril De Torres of energy think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED).

Several other sectors also raised concern over the project, including fisherfolk, mangrove conservationists, barangay kagawad and health workers, teachers, and others.