Thursday, June 02, 2011

Energy rationing 5: Boo Chanco on the RE racket

I seldom read newspapers, much less their columnists. I read more a few blogs that I follow everyday, especially science blogs pertaining to climate science, then the facebook updates of my friends, including the news articles that they recommend. Then I read some of those articles or opinions.

The renewable energy (RE) racket "to save the planet" is still on-going. Mind you, they plan to steal from us around P9 billion (roughly US$ 207 million at current P43.3/$ exchange rate) every year for the next 20 years. It's not a new tax that will go to the government. Rather, it's an add-on cost that we energy consumers in the Philippines will have to pay extra to the already high electricity prices, to subsidize those expensive solar and wind farms.

Luckily, there are a few local newspaper columnists who have written about the RE racket. Like FEF Fellows Romy Bernardo of BusinessWorld, and Boo Chanco of the Philippine Star.

Last May 27, 2011, Boo Chanco wrote in the Philippine Star:

Renewable energy

Here is something to think about for us electricity consumers, already burdened by one of the highest electricity rates in the world. We are being asked to subsidize the cost of electricity produced by solar, wind and other so-called renewables through the mechanism of the so-called feed in tariff or FIT.

Unless we speak up, we will be forced to shell out some P9 billion every year for FIT for 20 long years… even after technology has made those renewables economically competitive. Of that amount, 50 percent goes to solar and wind, even if they will only account for 20 percent of the RE generated power under the FIT program.

There are those who say we have such a small carbon footprint and because we use significant amounts of geothermal and hydro, our electricity generation mix is already at least 32 percent renewable compared to the US which is under 10 percent. That means the Philippines is already contributing three times as much RE as the US on a country basis.

So why subsidize these fashionable RE technologies now? Why can’t we just wait for the more technologically advanced and financially capable developed countries to shepherd these technologies along until no subsidy will be required? Ironically, these developed countries are cutting back on their RE subsidies lately, notably in Europe.

I understand that even the National Grid will have to shell out substantial capex. It has to cope with all these small power sources going on and off the grid all the time without destabilizing the system. Guess who pays for the National Grid investments?

Hopefully our policy makers will put our interests, the already heavily burdened Filipino electricity consumers, ahead of the salesmen trying to make a fast buck by selling these technologies to us at this time. The ERC should carefully crunch the numbers and carefully explain everything before forcing us to pay up for something we don’t really need now....

Today, Boo wrote again on the RE racket.

Solar + Wind = Hot Air

... Indeed, solar is still a technology undergoing development. Eventually, it should be commercially viable or competitive with conventional energy. Right now, the only way to make it viable is to subsidize it. It is the same thing with wind. They call that subsidy feed-in-tariff (FiT), a fancy term for the amount they want to add to our electricity bills supposedly to encourage more use of this type of renewable energy.

Some local economists have raised an alarm about going overboard on this FiT in our mindless haste to be seen as fashionably earth loving. The manufacturers of solar and wind energy equipment have successfully lobbied Congress into passing a law that mandates the granting of this subsidy. It also mandates the inclusion of RE into our electricity mix. Because our legislators were only after PR mileage to be seen as being ecologically correct, the law gave no regard to cost implications for our consumers and our industries.

Romy Bernardo, a Ramos era undersecretary of finance, is critical of the P9 billion annual cost of FiT (times 20 years or P180 billion). Of this, 50 per- cent goes to solar and wind, even if they will only account for 20 percent of the RE generated power under the FiT program. “Let’s decide what the public can afford,” Bernardo urges. “It certainly cannot be the P7 to P9 billion PER YEAR over a contract period of 20 years, given the already high cost of power.”

Bernardo is correct. Even the RE developers acknowledge that today’s RE prices are expected to come down. One executive working on the solar initiatives of a local conglomerate told their stockholders meeting just this week that it will take three to five years to reach grid parity based on global studies.

The solar industry is growing so fast, he said, and economies of scale are kicking in. “In the Philippines, projection is by 2015 to 2017, we should reach grid parity.” So why not wait? And why give them subsidy for 20 years when the technology is at grid parity in five? The initial price setting should only be made applicable for the next three or five years. After that, we should review again.

Even if we end up with less RE because we have been too cautious, it would be worse to err on the side of paying too much, locking in the mistake for 20 long years. We already have, in any case, at 34 percent, more RE capacity installed as a percentage of total electricity generated than the US and most European countries. We can afford to wait for the technologies to mature and come down in price.

The Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), a public advocacy group espousing market-oriented reform for good governance, has taken the position that “Renewable Energy subsidies must be transparent, limited and technology neutral.” The FEF believes the Feed-in-Tariffs to be issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) must provide for an absolute peso cap on the total amount of subsidies that the public will be made to bear, capped both on an annual basis and for the life of the project.

The FEF also wants to make sure that the amount of public subsidy for RE projects should be explicitly disclosed and shown to be commensurate to the social benefit that the public is expected to derive from this program. The outlay should be transparently evaluated based on “value for money” to the public.

The FEF also urged the ERC to consider the ability of the public to shoulder additional levies on a per kWh cost of power. As FEF president Toti Chikiamco puts it, “it’s not only household consumers who will suffer but industry too. It will reduce the competitiveness of Philippine industry, already burdened with one of the highest power rates in the region and a strong peso.”

The FEF economists also think we should buy the cheapest RE available before we buy the more expensive technology. They point out that based on the numbers of the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB), it appears that we can subsidize 11 kwh of hydro for the same amount needed to subsidize 1 kwh of solar. The subsidy equivalent for biomass is 6 kwh for 1 kwh of solar.
Actually, even abroad, the economics of solar and wind are being questioned. In an article on MarketWatch, where I borrowed the headline for this column today, market trader Jim Chanos famed for shorting Enron, argues that wind and solar are “not capable” of real cost-effective ways of meeting energy demands. “Wind and solar are not efficient.”

This is not to say that technologies such as Solar Photo Voltaic have no place in our energy mix at this time. The FEF paper admits solar may be the best, or the only substitute, in some areas, for expensive diesel-fired plants serving off-grid customers.

When solar or wind are used to augment off-grid diesel installations, the avoided costs (or the cost of diesel fuel that would have been used) and the avoided emissions are higher, so the required incremental subsidy is less. And no additional reserves or transmission facilities that add to our power costs are needed. In fact, solar technology is already used in a significant number of rural electrification projects all over the country....


See also, Energy rationing 2: The Renewable Energy (RE) law

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