Will Coal Avert the Power Crisis in Southern Philippines?

Entrance to a 'drift' coal mine in W.Virginia circa 1908
Entrance to a 'drift' coal mine in W.Virginia circa 1908 | Source

Energy crisis

Coal made possible the industrialization of the world. Oddly enough, some places are still dependent on coal mining despite its adverse effects on the lives of the people in nearby communities. Mindanao is the second largest island in the Philippines which is often depicted as beset by insurgency and security problems caused by warring clans or ethnic groups and alleged terror groups. However, this is not true in all of Mindanao areas, as there are many provinces and cities which remain to be peaceful.

Certain areas in Mindanao island were discovered to have considerable coal deposits. Based on surveys conducted, coal deposits are abundant in the three (3) provinces in Mindanao, namely: Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, and Surigao del Norte. It appears that the biggest bulk of these coal reserves may be found in Bislig in Surigao del Sur, and its surrounding areas. As a result, a number of coal mining contracts were awarded by the government to independent bidders to mine coal.

The availability of coal as an alternative source of power for the region was seen as an answer to the energy supply crisis in Mindanao. It is no secret that the island of Mindanao experiences energy supply crisis in the past and up to this day. Power is majorly sourced from dams which often dry up in the summer months. It started during summer months when intense heat reduced the water in dams which provide power supply generated by the hydropower stations in the region.

The lessening power supply has drastic consequences on the lives of the people living here. Since demand for energy is more than the supply, regular rotating brownouts is the order of the day to make do with the meager supply of energy in the area. Indeed, this has caused unbearable burden upon the lives of the people, businesses and ultimately the economy in the provinces.

An example of a coal-fired power plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan (image with CC BY-SA 3.0)
An example of a coal-fired power plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan (image with CC BY-SA 3.0) | Source

Is coal the answer?

Of course, the government welcomes the coal potential as an answer to the burgeoning power demand in Mindanao. The abundant coal supply would then of course give birth to the establishment of coal-fired plants in these region. Not every one is happy however. Communities and groups have staged protests and voiced out their opposition to the coal mining prospects. It is no secret that coal as an energy source is seen as a ‘dirty’ and largely contributes to global warming. Coal-fired power plants are often source of various air pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and many other harmful compounds.

No wonder the communities as well as environmental groups in these areas have staunchly opposed the coal mining that this development will encourage. Mining coal and the consequences of this activity often led to denudation of forests as well as major destruction of the landscape as well as water systems. Forests have to be cleared to make way for these coal mines. The risks of coal mining has been emphasized by environmental groups as one major reason for flash floods. In the recent past, cities like Cagayan de Oro became engulfed in flash floods caused by raging waters coming from the mountains as trees have been cutoff for logging operations. And now coal mining is another reason to clear forests to make way for coal mining operations.

The government attempts to pacify and allay the fears ensuring that the companies involved stick to the regulations and terms of reference of their contracts. It seems that it has run out of other options to solve the power supply crisis in Mindanao. Considering how previous environments and communities have been destroyed by coal operations even in first world countries, it remains to be seen if the Philippines government would be able to protect the communities posed to be affected by coal mining in Mindanao.

Photo with Creative Commons License 2.5 Generic
Photo with Creative Commons License 2.5 Generic | Source
Nuns oppose coal plant in Davao City
Nuns oppose coal plant in Davao City | Source

No wonder certain local communities and environmental groups have staunchly opposed coal mining. Mining coal and the consequences of this activity had been highlighted in the past as one major contributor to the denudation of forests, destruction of the landscape, poisoning water systems including depletion of underground water reservoirs and even destruction of corals. In Maasim town (Saranggani) reports have been made about the destruction of corals caused by the cable that help ground barges in a newly constructed coal-powered plant in the site.

Moreover, forests have to be cleared to make way for these coal mines. The risks of coal mining has been emphasized by environmental groups as one major reason for flash floods.

The government attempts to pacify and allay the fears of different stakeholders by assuring that the regulations and terms of reference mining contracts will be strictly adhered to. Already various coal plants have been constructed in specific areas in Saranggani province, Davao City, and Davao del Sur. From the looks of these developments, it seems that coal is the only way to go to alleviate the power crisis in Mindanao, or is it?

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