Not green, but greenback future

By jumping to another fossil fuel like gas as it now appears to be doing, SMC reveals itself as nothing more than a sustainability fraud.

Noise has been generated, courtesy of conglomerate San Miguel Corp., on its supposed thrust to shift from coal to renewable energy use as the Asian giant calls the move its contribution to the global effort to control greenhouse gas emissions.

San Miguel Corp., through its energy arm SMC Global Power Holdings Corp., dropped more coal projects from its portfolio, after announcing last month that it was removing the fossil fuel from its expansion plans.

Consumer groups suggested that SMC is engaged in duplicity in its move to dispose of coal operations, only to shift to imported liquefied natural gas.

“By jumping to another fossil fuel like gas as it now appears to be doing, SMC reveals itself as nothing more than a sustainability fraud,” consumer group Power for People Coalition said.

Renewable energy advocates affiliated with P4P also charged that the Philippines’ largest conglomerate may be pivoting to fossil gas, which negates its intention to boost its clean energy mix.

In a 6 August letter to P4P Coalition, the Department of Energy confirmed SMC will no longer pursue the Central Luzon Premiere Power Corporation and Lumiere Energy Technologies Inc. coal projects in Pagbilao, Quezon, both with a capacity of 355 megawatts each, and an 82-MW plant in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur.

However, two weeks earlier, SMC energy subsidiary SMC Global Power Holdings Corp. said it will convert a proposed 300-MW coal plant in San Carlos, Negros Occidental to a liquified natural gas-powered facility, as well as build a 1,300-MW LNG plant in Batangas City, and put up small-scale gas facilities in Visayas and Mindanao.

Natural gas, which currently accounts for over 21 percent of the power mix, has a clean burn as it releases up to 60 percent less carbon dioxide than coal, but experts flagged its by-product methane as a powerful greenhouse gas emitted during the production, transportation, and combustion of LNG.

“SMC parades a renewable energy front, and if it wishes to stick to this, it needs to take the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s cue and cut off its fossil fuel ties, take responsibility for detrimental impacts of operating projects, and commit to working toward a fully renewable energy portfolio,” Arances said.

A study released by research institution Centre for Energy, Ecology and Development revealed that SMC has the biggest ownership share of proposed gas power plants in the Philippines.

It is responsible for a fifth of the total planned capacity through its subsidiary Excellent Energy Resources Inc.’s pending project with a total capacity of 1,740 MW.

Ecology experts warned that LNG is not a transition fuel, since contracts required for gas investments rely on long-term commitments.

Sam Reynolds, energy finance analyst of the global think-tank Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said SMC’s decision to abandon coal plants only showed that the “window of opportunity for coal in the Philippines has closed.”

The LNG shift of SMC has little to do with the green future, but everything about profit in greenbacks.

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