The Kamanga Project

Aerial shot of the ongoing construction of coal-fired power plant in Kamanga Maasim, Sarangani Province
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   The Kamanga coal-fired power plant project divides the opinion of the public. Up until now, this controversial venture is still under the public scrutiny. The proponents and its opposition are still in the debate whether this project will be beneficial or just another form of capitalism branded as the answer to the power crisis. The government said that the power crisis will be gone in 2015 but the environmentalists are still skeptical about it. 

   “The Kamanga power station (also known as the Southern Mindanao power station or the SM200 project) is a 210-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power station owned by Sarangani Energy Corp (SEC) and under construction on the coast of Sarangani Province. It is one of two coal plants under development by Alcantara family energy-related businesses.”

   The proponents of this project are confident that it will solve the power crisis in Mindanao. This project will initially generate 200 megawatts of electricity with two incremental expansions of 350 MW over a period of 15 years. Moreover, the project will spur economic development and generates employment.

   The Kamanga coal power plant project will not only benefit the consumers of General Santos City, Sarangani Province, and South Cotabato, but also Butuan City, the cities of Tagum and Samal in Davao del Norte, the entire province of Agusan del Sur, and the entire province of Compostela Valley.

   Joseph C. Nocos, Conal Holdings vice president, gave assurances that the project will comply with national and international environmental guidelines. "We can't let our massive investments go down the drain by being irresponsible in our operations," the company official said.

   In a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Conal Holdings and Maasim “committed to reforest, rehabilitate and develop Maasim’s vast brushlands, grasslands, and forestlands for the establishment of a natural carbon sink for the company’s coal-fired power plant”. As stated in MOU, “Conal is committed to support the development of tree farms, small-scale agroforestry systems and tree plantations as a carbon sink with the different tenure holders and legitimate forest occupants in the forestlands of Maasim.”

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Environmentalist’s plea 

   The recent incident of coral destruction in the area of Maasim caught the attention not only to the environmentalists but also to the concerned citizens. The six hectares of naturally and artificially grown corals are being destroyed due to the ongoing construction of the coal-fired power plant situated in Kamanga Maasim, Sarangani Province. 

   The coral destruction upsets many environmentalists. Since Sarangani Bay is already polluted with industrial waste and improper agricultural activities in the upland areas, they make actions and solutions to help save the Sarangani Bay. 

   According to John Heitz, coral formations as big as sedans were dragged and uprooted by cables that now anchor four barges in Kamanga in Maasim, site of 100-megawatt coal-fired power plant owned by the Alcantara’s Sarangani Energy Corporation (SEC). He already wrote Equipment Engineers Inc. (EEI), one of the sub-contractors of the Korean-owned Dailem Philippines Inc. which won in the bid to construct the US$250-million project. John Heitz along with other divers and environmentalists are putting their effort to rehabilitate the Sarangani Bay

  Chris Dearne, a former British soldier turned dive-instructor/environmentalist, a substantial area of the reefs along the western coast of the bay are practically dead, especially the Glan area of Cabug, Kapatan and Lago, due to dap-ag and pollution. He along with other divers conducts coastal clean-up driven where they’ve collected non-biodegradable materials like plastics, cell phones, car tires, nylon ropes, bottles, caps, Styrofoam that were recovered even from offshore. He also said that the western part of the bay is “still saveable”, from a portion in barangay Bawing in General Santos City towards Maitum town in Sarangani. He also said that the eastern part of the coast, from Barangay Tambler, General Santos, to the towns of Alabel, Malapatan and Glan in Sarangani, has been plaqued with chemicals and other pollutants from agriculture and industries. “Logging for lumber and large-scale charcoal making in the mountains of Alabel and Malapatan towns have taken its toll on the coral reefs and the bay’s marine life”, he added. 

   Dearne laments the insensitivity of government agencies and the people who have sworn to protect nature and environment. He said it was only lately that leaders of government are taking interest on the issue when everyone is talking about climate change and deterioration in the environment. 

   Paul Partridge, a dive instructor and owner of Southpoint resort, also commented on the Kamanga Coal Power Plant Project. He said, “Everything has its effects. It is only a matter of putting trust on duly established standards and laws,” Partridge said coal may not be the cleanest, but, there are technologies, laws, and standards that would ensure a less expensive alternative for power. 

   Many environmental groups like Greenpeace and other church-backed organizations have been opposing the construction of coal-fired power plants on concerns over human health and the environment. 

   According to Greenpeace coal is the “biggest industrial contributors to microscopic particulate pollution”, citing studies on the effects of coal-powered plants and found acid gas, soot and dust emissions contribute hugely to pollution. Its effects are increased risks of heart attacks, lung cancer, asthma and other respiratory problems. 

   The Union of Concerned Scientists said that burning coal is a leading cause of smog, acid rain, global warming, and air toxins. In an average year, a typical coal plant generates: 

• 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary human cause of global warming--as much carbon dioxide as cutting down 161 million trees. 
• 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which causes acid rain that damages forests, lakes, and buildings, and forms small airborne particles that can penetrate deep into lungs. 
• 500 tons of small airborne particles, which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility. 
• 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), as much as would be emitted by half a million late-model cars. NOx leads to formation of ozone (smog) which inflames the lungs, burning through lung tissue making people more susceptible to respiratory illness. 
• 720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease. 
• 220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone. 
• 170 pounds of mercury, where just 1/70th of a teaspoon deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat. 
• 225 pounds of arsenic, which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion. 
• 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium. 

   In an article of Kyle Laskowski entitled Coal power: Pollution, politics, and profits, he stated that: 

“Some negative externalities arise from the use of coal as a primary electricity source. Negative health effects on the nearby human population, plant life, and wildlife have been hard to quantify precisely and thoroughly, and are generally not included in the cost of coal power to the consumer…. Some developing nations are not so forward-looking on this issue, choosing to allow the industry to emit toxins unhindered because that is the cheaper alternative. It is hard to blame the poorest nations for their relative lack of environmental standards because they are doing the best they can to advance to a better standard of living. However, it is possible to advance towards more healthy energy sources without sacrificing very much wealth. If the developed world aided impoverished nations more, this problem could be alleviated to some extent.” 

   Thermal pollution is also feared when the power plant will be operational. The power plant might trigger discharges from its cooling system that may eventually alter water temperature. As Laskowski stated in his article: 

“When warm water used to cool a coal power plant is exhausted into bodies of water that harbor life, it becomes thermal pollution which can have negative effects on the ecosystem. Heating a body of water decreases its dissolved oxygen content, which has the potential to harm animals dependent on it for oxygen. Heating also leads to an increase in the metabolic rate of the organisms living in the body of water, causing them to require more food. Warmer waters can trigger algae blooms, further depriving the water of oxygen.” 

   Juland Suazo, spokesperson of the environment group Panalipdan critiqued the government’s switch from renewable energy to coal-powered plants. “With greater coal power comes increased electricity rates like what happened in Luzon and Visayas. The reason why Mindanao has cheaper rates compared to Luzon and Visayas is that we use renewable energy from Agus-Pulangi hydropower plants,” he added. He also criticized Aquino who launched on 2011 the National Renewable Energy Plan (NREP) but is now pushing for what he calls “dirty energy” of coal-fired power plants with contracts granted through a private-public partnership.

Photovoltaic array and wind turbines at the Schneebergerhof wind farm in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz
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The case of Germany 

   Many developed countries are pushing for renewable energy sources. For example, Germany is gradually phasing out their nuclear power to give way to a more sustainable source of energy like solar and wind power. In an article written by Rainer Backe entitled Germany’s Energiewende: The Prospects of a Grand-Scale Project, he said: 

“Germany is gradually phasing out their nuclear energy source. The country is investing on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Germany is the first major industrial country to seriously consider the challenge of overcoming the entire range problems associated with fossil and nuclear fuels – from emissions to cost from nuclear proliferation to nuclear waste, from environmental devastation to health impacts.” 

   Other European countries are pushing for renewable energy. Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and France are also developing renewable-based economies. Though these countries have a long way to go to achieve their goals for a sustainable power source, they are determined and willing to invest for the future. Germany is leading this trend, as Backe noted: 

“If Germany, despite medium irradiation levels, limited land grow biomass, and average wind and water resources, succeeds in the transforming the energy system to renewable sources while keeping an eye on cost, then every other country in the world will be able to follow on that track, too. And challenges entailed for these countries will be significantly lower.”

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   The issue of power crisis in the Philippines is very complex. Writing this article is not enough to explain or evaluate its complexities. As citizens in this country, we should be vigilant and proactive consumers. In the case of Germany, there is a broad social consensus among the majority of the Germans. Its citizens are actively participating in their energiewende program.

   It is sad to know that our government is favoring non-renewable sources of energy over renewable energy. The EPIRA Law marks the end of renewable power source. This law is supposed to be a relief to the consumers but it turns out to be a burden. 

   On the other hand, we cannot blame the proponents of coal since this source of energy is “fairly inexpensive and abundant fuel source”. The problem lies in accountability, transparency and the politics behind it. When I first heard this project, I am wondering why there is no proper public consultation about it. If there’s a series of consultation, only limited or chosen people were invited. The power plant’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not publicly published or disseminated properly. The majority of people in SOCSKSARGEN (especially in Sarangani) are still confused about it. It seems that this project was kept secret until we were surprised that a structure was built (and still building) in the shoreline of Maasim. 

   As consumers, we should demand their mitigation measures on how they are going to solve future problems. We should demand accountability and transparency. In this stage, we can no longer stop the construction of the power plant since it was already approved. Not unless there is a major power plant disaster or a Godzilla like figure suddenly appear on the scene.


Edwin Espejo. Ongoing construction of power plant in Sarangani destroying corals, divers say. - May 11, 2014 1:24 PM -

Rommel G. Rebollido. Not man, but nature itself destroys Sarangani Bay. June 22, 2009 8:50 am -

Kamanga power station -

Kyle Laskowski. Coal power: Pollution, politics, and profits. OCTOBER 13, 2010.

Union of Concerned Scientists. Why Coal-Fired Power is Bad.

Allen V. Estabillo. Coal-fired power firm plans carbon sink. July 16, 2008.

Tyrone A. Velez. Pushing coal-fired power plants in Mindanao for profit. August 11 2013.

Rainer Backe. Germany’s Energiewende: The Prospects of a Grand-Scale Project. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs: The Future of Energy. Winter/Spring 2013

GreenPeace Philippines -

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