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Opinion

Nuke electricity in the Phl?

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The strong push in promoting the use of electric vehicles is most welcome in our country’s bid to lessen carbon footprint. In fact, e-vehicles are billed as the most environment-friendly since they run on electricity. Definitely, we all want to breathe less polluted air, especially when travelling on the road. While many have the luxury of air-conditioned cars and vehicles using fossil fuels, the greater number of commuters have to deal with available public transport system like our diesel-fed iconic jeepneys with open windows.

For now, the brouhaha over the government’s modernization program for public utility jeepneys (PUJ) has died down. This is just a temporary breather from the mass transport strikes led by the militant groups of organized jeepney drivers and operators vehemently opposed to the PUJ modernization program. The lull may end next month when the last deadline extension lapses for the controversial Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).

But the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) remains hopeful this will be the last extension of the deadline after the Supreme Court (SC) junked one of the petitions that challenged the constitutionality of the PUVMP. But two other petitions against the PUVMP are still pending before the SC.

On technicality, the SC dismissed the petition filed by a coalition of jeepney operators and drivers assailing the constitutionality of the order implementing the PUVMP. The High Court decision cited a lack of legal standing of the petitioner and a violation of the hierarchy of courts.

The PUVMP requires PUV operators to consolidate into cooperatives and/or corporations. Failure to do so will result in the revocation of franchises of PUJs registered by the LTFRB. In January this year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (PBBM) extended the consolidation of PUV deadline to April 30.

But there’s a much earlier deadline starting April 15 this year that would have e-vehicles officially prohibited on national roads of the National Capital Region, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) announced last Monday.

The MMDA ban came a week after the Metro Manila Council (MMC) filed a resolution banning both public and privately owned e-vehicles plying designated national roads and highways in the NCR.

The NCR-wide ban initially covers only the traditional tricycles turned into e-trikes and other small e-vehicles –presumably referring to the likes of e-bicycles, e-scooters – to be identified in the future by the MMDA. The ban on e-vehicles points to their unregulated operation as posing a risk to the public, as many of its drivers don’t possess a driver’s license. According to the MMDA, motorists who will violate and be caught without a license will have their e-vehicles impounded.

For supposedly environment-friendly e-vehicles, imposing a ban sends a confusing signal from the government when no less than PBBM declares support for e-vehicles. The Metro Manila mayors, except Mayor Biazon, are obviously out of synch with the national direction of such climate change adaptation measures being implemented by the national government.

While there is now growing popular use of e-vehicles, the government must be confident that we have more than enough electricity supply to meet demand. With the onset of the El Niño phenomenon, Sen.Sherwin Gatchalian has been raising the alert on the long period of dry season and the short-term impact, not only to our country’s food requirements, but also the energy supply security. In our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last week, Gatchalian noted with concern that close to ten to 15 percent of our country’s electricity supply mix comes from hydro-electric power plants.

“All the preventive maintenance should be done now. So that when summer comes, all the plants are running in full capacity. But we need to really monitor this very carefully,” Gatchalian urged.

As chairman of the Senate committee on energy, Gatchalian has been breathing down the necks of Department of Energy (DOE) and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) officials to come up with a contingency plan to make sure power plant operators will not do repairs during summer time. Offhand, he noted 50 percent of our power plant capacity is run by coal and gas but not enough in case of any unexpected power interruption.

“But we’re also pushing ERC and DOE to make sure that 100 percent are contracted so that when El Niño comes, we have ancillary reserves ready to run after that,” he disclosed.

On renewable energy, Gatchalian revealed he was informed by the DOE and ERC that there is a lot of interest in terms of investments to put up power plants run by other environment-friendly sources of electricity such as solar power and wind farms.

And the reason for that great interest, he gathered, was the recently released circular of the DOE – as upheld by the Department of Justice legal opinion, that allows 100 percent foreign ownership of RE power plants. Gatchalian credited the sales pitch that PBBM does on state visits and official trips abroad for the heightened interest of foreign investors in RE projects in the Philippines.

The other source of additional power supply comes from the use of nuclear energy, albeit shrouded by safety concerns as well other emotional issues up to now. So far, PBBM has met with American, South Korean investors, among them, that expressed interest and readiness put up modular nuclear units.

“But again, we have to approach this with a lot of caution. And we have to make sure that the laws, the treaties, the regulations are in place. Nuclear may be clean and efficient. But safety is still a concern. So we have to address that safety issue,” he stressed.

But where will it be put up? Surely, there will be the usual “not in my backyard” reaction. “But the smaller ones, smaller footprint, the safety is much higher. That’s why I think the small nuclear, the small modular nuclear will be more acceptable,” he quipped.

Sen. Gatchalian believes “the most feasible modular nuclear will come online probably 2027.” He earlier filed a bill to establish a regulator for nuclear that will regulate safety issues of nuclear modular units.

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