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Power and energy as organic and metaphorical reality

Alegria A. Imperial - Peregrine NotesWith a coastline that could gird a distance as far as the western hemisphere and back, hence, abundant water, wind and tidal waves—and year-round sunlight—how could it not generate power from its most natural renewable resources? Apparently, it does and it has. According to a country report by Noel R. Estoperez for the Philippines at the Hangzhou Regional Center for Small Hydro Power in 2002, the country has been into it since 1913. 

While I can only recall having heard, read, and seen beginnings of renewable energy like biogas and solar power in the 70s, it seems concern for power not dependent on fossil fuel in the Philippines started way back in 1913, the birth year of my father, I suppose, under a sputtering glass kerosene lamp.

Meralco, then, had just marked the 13th year of its government-granted (under the Americans) franchise “to supply Manila and its environs with electricity and the electric street-railway system”, the “tranvia” of history books.

It’s a landmark year, apparently, in the Philippines’ now vaunted role as the “latest nation to aim for 100 percent renewables” ahead of wealthier countries, which, according to a report by Beth Bucynski at care2causes, has expressed desire to withdraw its dependence on petroleum power—though the headline had focused on its meager GDP at 0.04, hence, limited resources to invest in harnessing power sources. Quoting from an un-cited release, the news at care2 states, nonetheless, as if a pat to comfort, that the Philippines forges ahead anyway, with strategies that translate to “… changes necessary for transitioning to an energy system entirely based on energy efficiency, intelligent grid solutions and renewable supply”.

Quite a huge bite for me, really, all that. But having stumbled on a history of small hydropower in the Philippines, my innate distrust in the country’s commitment to solving nagging problems, turned around. More than anyone, perhaps, the report has been an eye-opener for me. Consider these: from Estoperez, hydropower development in the Philippines began “…with the first power plant established by missionaries in Baguio City, the Camp John Hay Hydroelectric Power Plant with an installed capacity of 560 kilowatts.”

In twenty years, “the private sector continued the development of water resources for power generation until Commonwealth Act No. 120 created the National Power Corporation (NPC) in 1936”, which with the nationalization of the hydroelectric power industry, “…reserved for the use of NPC all streams, lakes, and rivers in the country where power may be developed…”

And then, a gap of 40 years follows. Climactic events as we know, filling decades with the shattering of “peace times”, a still unforgotten war, the struggle to recover, and the ensuing ebullience of independence. The world also started shrinking with television and jet planes as life with the ensuing generations of zooming technology, heedlessly began using up more power; with needed resources, the power generation speeded up to the point of endangering meager government resources. And of course, population has ballooned; the year Estoperez read his country report in 2002, Filipinos had already multiplied at 82.8 million, more than half of Canada’s population today.

Wielding his absolute powers—that sadly later, appeared no longer for “emergency” only but morphing into permanence—Marcos in 1979, pulled up the 1913 American hydropower development plan and under Presidential Decree 1645, created the National Electrification Administration mandated to develop small-scale potentials, the mini-hydro. As early as then, the report continues, investment requirements posed as high as the South China Sea’s billows, and so, business opportunities were offered to the private sector. Refined and expanded decade after decade, which included parceling of the power distribution process, I surmise the complications must have triggered controversial monopolies, rising costs for consumers, as well as stalling of countrywide power coverage.

Admitting my ignorance of such history no matter, I had raised my hand to speak in sustainability conferences, about how Filipinos could model how to live ‘green’, citing the single experiment on biogas fuel I had visited and left awed. In one lengthy plenary session, where participants grappled with sustainability in terms of neighborhood and communities, I had unraveled how there’s great learning that awaits them from Filipinos, who still swap time and energy in say, taking care of children, sharing harvests of vegetables and fruits, or a television set, making do with ambient light—power coming from a natural source, I had wanted to add flourish to the image.

My audiences had marveled at what to them, a revelation; but now, reading about what it is asked of a model or leader in a sustainable world, I cringe at my pretense. How could not I have cited the wind farms instead, and yes, the small hydro power plants, the thermal energy systems, and solar power long used for say, drying rice grain? And this, too—waste disposal with recyclables, having in mind the bote at garapa gatherers, and natural composting because Filipinos have been doing it, though unscientifically, hence. polluting the soil and waters. Still, with the recent headline that puts the Philippines ahead in the race for renewable energy, I feel genuinely proud.

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