POSTSCRIPT / July 30, 2013 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why is Greenpeace mad at Phl policies?

ENERGY & FOOD: It looks like the Europe-based pressure group Greenpeace is on the warpath again. The government better be on the lookout.

Greenpeace is powerful, given is huge pool of international donors. Knowing it has the financial and political clout to scare governments and corporations, it seems to be testing the mettle of the Aquino administration in resisting foreign pressure.

Greenpeace’s current assault is on two fronts: energy security and food security.

President Noynoy Aquino must have crossed Greenpeace when he disclosed in his State of the Nation Address his plan to build more baseload power plants, some of them in Mindanao now in the throes of blackouts.

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NO ALTERNATIVES: The pressure group has bannered in its website and public relations campaign its “disappointment” over the President’s response to the energy crisis. But it does not offer an immediate or alternative remedy.

Greenpeace must present something better than the solution prescribed by Malacañang and some cronies — which is to deploy inefficient power barges and allocate P4.5 billion for electric cooperatives to acquire gas-guzzling modular generators.

What can Greenpeace suggest to darkened communities waiting for the trees to grow in the watersheds upstream of rivers feeding the hydroelectric plants? How do we manage the merchants scrambling to corner orders for generators?

For far-flung areas not served by the national grid, can Greenpeace improve on what TeaM Energy has done for 5,551 households on the Polillo islands in Quezon — which is to lay out for them solar panels for renewable energy to power household lights and appliances?

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COAL ISSUE: A Greenpeace spokesperson said that putting up more baseload plants means increased use of coal. That may be true if they are coal-fired, but it is not necessarily bad.

(For those who were absent last time: “Baseload” plants are the workhorses that generally keep running 24/7 to maintain a steady power supply level. The other type is the “peaking” plant that goes to work only during peak consumption hours, as opposed to the baseload plant that operates both during peak and non-peak hours.)

The design and the fuel of a power plant are crucial to its viability and social acceptability.

If a plant, for instance, uses local Semirara coal that is high in sulfur and has a low heat-generation capacity, patay kang bata ka! The fuel has to be boosted by mixing it with imported good-quality coal, which is expensive.

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MODEL PLANTS: Going back to my saying that using coal for fuel is not necessarily bad, I recall once visiting Taiwan coal-fired plants located in unperturbed residential-business districts!

Using high-grade coal in their CFB (circulating fluidized bed) system, the plants do not emit black smoke or spew noxious unburned wastes that are associated with coal plants of older design such as that black monster in Calaca, Batangas, before a new management rehabilitated it.

In the Taiwanese plant, the coal pile is stored in a well-covered yard. The fuel is kept unexposed to the elements before it is fed to the generators through shielded conveyors.

Entering the plant, a visitor may think it has been shut off as there is a minimum of noise and personnel in the premises. He sees only two or three technicians in the main control room monitoring operations and turning switches and dials as needed.

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HIDDEN AGENDA?: While Greenpeace’s “disappointment” is passed off as part of a “pro-environment” program, some quarters see it as complementing its pro-Europe agenda.

The Philippines, as far as I know, does not buy coal from Europe. Our fuel is sourced locally and from neighboring Asian countries. There is not much business that Europe can get from us when we operate baseload coal plants.

By the way, it costs $1.5 million (it used to be $1 million) per megawatt to put up a power plant in Scamdinavia (aka Philippines) and requires at least three years as lead time from ground-breaking to start of operations.

As for the time and money lost during the back-breaking and bank-breaking haggling and red tape before the actual ground-breaking, your guess is right.

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FOOD FRONT: Greenpeace is also on war footing on the food security front.

The agriculture sector has been looking at the benefits of modern technology to help food producers harvest more at less cost and with minimal or no damage at all to the environment.

Modern biotechnology enables scientists to develop plant varieties that have natural or built-in resistance to pests and diseases. This means they do not have to be protected by chemical pesticides.

Filipino scientists led by former UP President Emil Q. Javier, a renowned plant geneticist and agronomist, are field testing a plant variety developed using this method. The variety is called Bt Talong, an eggplant that fights on its own against plant borers.

Farmers who plant it will be spared the huge costs and risks to health that come with the use of chemical pesticides.

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SCARE TACTIC: Greenpeace has succeeded in getting the courts to stop these tests by arguing that the safety of Bt Talong has not been proven.

Decades ago, Greenpeace told farmers that using seeds developed through biotechnology can cause deaths among children, cancer and homosexuality. Filipino scientists are ready to prove that those claims are nothing but the old scare ploy.

Many farmers rejected the scare tactic and took to planting a biotechnology-developed corn variety. None of the dreadful consequences that Greenpeace warned against has taken place.

As in the power issue, Greenpeace offers no alternative. All it wants is to stop Filipino scientists from giving farmers an additional option and a way out of their dependence on European and other imported pesticides.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 30, 2013)

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