Monday, July 30, 2012

Roundtable Discussion on Renewable Energy

While in Davao I was invited by Prof. Tess Olives to sit in the discussion between Mindanao renewable energy NGOs and local government. The discussion was sponsored by Ateneo Davao and organized by Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. To begin, the premise of the whole discussion was the new FIT and corresponding idea of SoFIT. I am not familiar with these new ordinances so will not discuss it, instead I have some thoughts on renewable energy in general and the the role of Mindanao.

Renewable energy is attractive to environmentalists because of the renewable nature of its sources - wind, ocean, hydro, solar, geothermal, and biofuels, but achieving environmental sustainability will depend on the goals set by the implementers and not solely on the use of its resources. Continuing with the present power industry's paradigm will not lead to sustainability even if the source of power is renewable. The most disturbing idea I heard is using hydro-power to power Mindanao. Apparently, Mindanao is rich in water resources and the complaint was that a national plan was underway to subsidise wind power which would leave Mindanao paying for a technology that didn't apply to their provinces, since wind is not strong enough in the region as it is for Luzon and the Visayas. A subsidy for renewable energy in general would be more beneficial so each region can use the resource most available in their particular areas. I would have to agree with this, not only for it's sound logic, but also for the diversity of technologies this would create. But harnessing water from Mindanao's rivers, which could only mean building mega-dams, would be environmentally disastrous and thus unsustainable. So why is it even being discussed? Obviously, each group had their own agendas in the discussion, not all were savvy in the world of environmental sustainability, and even those that were my not have the same sentiments.

In my opinion, if we are talking about environmental sustainability and climate change then the discussion must include, first and foremost, a plan to drastically reduce energy consumption and design policies around energy efficiency. This would necessarily begin with, or in conjunction with, urban planning. Creating policies solely on producing renewable energy technology to replace the present polluting technologies will eventually lead to the same fate we are trying to avoid. And we don't get a second chance this time. Changing the toys but not the game will do nothing to slow down climate change or help the country move towards sustainable development, if indeed this is the goal. In fact the goals of government and corporations may be simply to replace the present technology because in fact the resources these technologies depend on is fast running out. So on to the next available resource. But can we run out of air, water, and sunlight? It's not that simple. The question should be, would renewable energy projects create meaningful change in the issue of Climate Change? If the goal is environmental sustainability then one must consider the entire process of production and implementation to achieve goals of sustainability. Looking at only one part of the process and ignoring the rest will not lead us any closer to our goals. Let's take wind energy as an example, harnessing wind power to supply energy to businesses and households sounds environmentally benign, but if we take the construction of modern windmills into consideration we then see that it is no longer environmentally-friendly. Modern windmills are made of steel, which needs to be see where I'm going. A credit/debit accounting of the whole process is needed to show that the technology will lead to goals of sustainability. The NGOs present know the whys and hows of creating a sustainable energy future, but will government and corporations, who are new to the game, listen?

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