POSTSCRIPT / November 23, 2014 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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SM solar shift shows way for sun-lit malls

GOING SOLAR: From our fourth-floor balcony at the back of SM City North I have been watching and photographing workers build additional floors to the five-level parking building, wondering if SM would install rooftop solar power panels.

The answer, I’ve found out, is Yes. In fact, the good news is that SM is set to inaugurate tomorrow its 1.3-megawatt solar power facility using 5,760 solar panels and 60 inverters laid out on more than 12,000 square meters of the roof of its parking building.

That makes our neighbor SM City North the world’s biggest solar-powered mall. (Last Sept. 20, btw, SM Prime Holdings also launched a 700-kw solar project at its Central Mall Biñan.)

We neighbors can now expect to have less of the noise and smoke of its diesel-fed generators that are turned on during brownouts. The new solar facility, sparkling like a glassy deck of a mini aircraft carrier, would offset around 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide emission.

Giant retailer SM’s energizing its malls with its own solar-generated power will help ease the demand on the composite power running through the national grid, and stabilize supply.

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SUN-LIT WAY: It has been asked why this sun-drenched country does not tap solar power in a big way and reduce its deep dependence on fossil fuel in generating clean, sustainable and inexpensive electricity.

The usual answers we get are: (1) Startup expense for solar power is prohibitively high (2) Competing power producers, especially those using crude, are actively lobbying against solar power, and (3) Government power planners and managers are inept, if not corrupt.

We won’t comment on items (2) and (3), but SM Prime’s embracing solar power for its malls answers item (1) that says solar power is too costly, therefore not practical or feasible. SM is showing the way to sun-lit valleys of viable and socially-responsive power generation.

SM Prime built last year a 1.1-megawatt solar power project in its Xiamen mall, its first in mainland China. It involved installing 3,740 solar panels on the roof of SM City Xiamen Phase 1 and Phase 2 calling for an investment of 13.2 million renminbi (RMB) or $ 2 million.

Of the SM North project, SM Prime president Hans T. Sy said: “We have always been committed to reduce greenhouse emissions and maximize energy efficiency in our malls. This is just one of many renewable projects we have been doing in our developments and we will continue finding ways of making our operations more environmentally sound and sustainable.”

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NEW CIAC CHIEF: The financial position of the Clark International Airport Corp., meanwhile, is likely to be bleak this year on account of a decline in passenger traffic, the withdrawal of some of the airlines using it, and the rise in operating costs.

Still, newly-appointed CIAC President and CEO Emigdio P. Tanjuatco III remains optimistic that the Clark airport would register a turn-around in operations by 2016 with the resolution of issues besetting the state-owned facility.

A basic question that disturbs stakeholders and prospective investors is if the Aquino administration is serious in pursuing its supposed “one-airport-two-system” policy.

Under this presidential edict, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) and the Clark International Airport (CRK) are to operate as the twin main gateways in Luzon, with MNL catering to inbound/outbound passengers and cargo from the south and CRK to those from Central and Northern Luzon.

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OPTIMISM: “The signs are positive that this policy will be fully implemented next year,” Tanjuatco said when asked about it in last Friday’s forum hosted by the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) in partnership with the Clark Development Corp. and the Social Security System.

He said he has initiated moves to woo back the international and domestic airlines that have suspended their Clark operations, like Emirates Airlines and Air Asia. He is also set to talk with Philippine Airlines and its subsidiary Air Philippines for them to use CRK.

Central and Northern Luzon generate yearly some 3.66 million passengers for domestic and overseas destinations, excluding cargo, a volume that could be adequately serviced by Clark with its current passenger capacity of three million.

“The market is there waiting,” he said. “And the numbers are encouraging.”

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APEC BOOST: Tanjuatco reported, “We will network with all the stakeholders and take concrete moves to show airline companies that this region is a lucrative market for inbound and outbound passenger and, possibly, cargo, traffic.”

He said: “We and our stakeholders hope to ride on next year’s senior ministerial meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) in the country to showcase the potentials of this gateway and the communities around it as a desirable destination for tourists and investors.”

There only eight airline companies now using Clark, when this number used to be 12, a cutback that affected the airport’s revenues. Of the eight airline companies, only Cebu Pacific services the domestic market.

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PRUNING LOSSES: Clark airport’s gross revenues this year are projected to rise to P697 million from the preceding year’s P569 million, and register an EBITDA (earnings before income taxes, depreciation and amortization) of P228 million as against 2013’s P194 million.

But it is forecast to suffer a net loss of P1.64 billion vis-a-vis last year’s net gain of nearly P38 million.

For 2015, however, its revenues are expected to post a one-percent gain at P706 million, while its EBITDA will be seven percent off at P212.3 million — posting a net income of P8.1 million before taxes.

Tanjuatco stressed: “With the resolution of the major and minor issues, coupled with the moves to further expand Clark’s facilities, Clark should be able to achieve its goal of becoming another major gateway in Luzon.”

The new CIAC chief, a second-degree cousin of President Aquino, is not new in the airline or airport operation business having served as a lawyer (and as corporate secretary) of such enterprises as PAL and its affiliates Macro-Asia Eurest Services Inc., Macroasia Property Development Corp., Macroasia Air Taxi Services Inc., Integrated Logistics Services Inc.; LIMA Land Corp.; Royal Brunei Airlines; CEMEX, PLDT, and Sumitomo Corp.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 23, 2014)

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