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SBMA tells Aquino: No to coal plant

March 8, 2012 ·  By Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon

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SBMA tells Aquino - No to coal plant

Greater Subic Bay Tourism Bureau (GSBTB) President George Lorenzana(5th from right) and members of the tourism organization representing operators from Zambales, Bataan, Olongapo City and Subic, along with cause-oriented groups and people’s organization flash thumbs down sign to oppose the plan coal thermal plant in Subic

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT —Residents, businessmen and officials of communities surrounding this economic zone have spoken, and the message is clear—no to a coal-fired power plant in Subic.

The plant, being pushed by a consortium of energy companies led by Aboitiz Power, Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and Taiwan Cogen Corp., was rejected by these groups during a series of consultations held in December last year, officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said.

In a report submitted to President Aquino this week, the SBMA, which completed the social acceptability process (SAP) on the proposed 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant of RP Energy Inc. (RPEI), the consortium’s corporate vehicle, said the project was clearly rejected by stakeholders in the free port.

“All across the stakeholder groups that participated in the process was a clear rejection of the coal-fired [power plant] project while the expert resource persons shared deep concerns on the deficiencies of the environmental impact assessment study used by the project proponent to secure the environmental compliance certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2008,” the report said.

At least 155 representatives of the six major stakeholder groups in the free port—local governments, business locators, tourism locators, free port residents, landowners and free port workers—joined the SAP held from Dec. 7 to 9. RPEI representatives, however, were absent.

The SAP report said: “While each stakeholder group was generally well-represented, certain groups were not present during the three-day series of consultations. Foremost and most noticeable was the absence of any representative from RPEI, the major proponent of the project. There was also no representation from the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce and the [town] of Subic, Zambales.”

Earlier, Raymond Cunningham, first vice president for business development of Aboitiz Power and member of RPEI’s steering committee, said there was little opposition to the coal plant.

“If we are convinced that the overwhelming majority of people in this area do not want the project, we would go away,” Cunningham said.

But the SAP report said “the overall persuasion of the participants [in the consultation process] was a clear aversion to the concept of an operational coal-fired power plant.”

“Taken as a whole, their concerns ranged from environmental to health to economic and sociocultural factors,” it said.

SBMA director Philip Camara, who led the SAP for the agency, said the SBMA board would consider the views of the stakeholders as it reviews its lease contracts and permits.

“The social acceptability process has made it clear that they are not welcome here,” he said.

Representatives of local governments in Zambales and Bataan expressed apprehension on the lack of direct financial benefits to communities and the apparent health risks from the plant’s operations.

The SAP report said free port residents voiced strong opposition to the project, saying the potential health risks “would be a strong disincentive.”

“They also criticized the project as violating the ecological and economic credo that the SBMA has been advocating since its founding,” it said.

Aeta communities “voiced their unease at the possibility of being affected by acid rain potentially triggered by the operation of the power plant,” the report said.

“Their main contention was the potential contamination of their water supply and the degradation and eventual ruin of … rainforests and the contiguous areas which are the primary sources of their livelihood,” it said.

Tourism-related businesses denounced the power plant project due to its potential impact on the tourism industry in the free port.

“Among other facts, they [said] toxic air and liquid discharge from the power plant would pose hazards to tourists in the area and in time, diminish the viability of Subic Bay as a tourist destination,” the report said.

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