Erstwhile energy-less Palawan communities lit up for the first time

In file photo, residents of Sitio Binaluan in Liminancong, Taytay, held a ceremony in which the city’s Christmas tree was lit for the very first time.

PALAWAN has always been part of every Filipino’s bucket list of dream destinations. This is no wonder because Palawan is simply one of the most visually breath-taking places not only in the Philippines but in the whole world.

In my last column, I wrote about how advocates pursue projects in the province to help keep Palawan clean and inhabitable while empowering its communities and taking care of its indigenous people.

One such project is the Access to Energy (A2E) program of Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc. (PSFI), which aims to, as its name connotes, give energy access to communities where there was once none.

In this age of high-technology and digital transformation, it is rather hard to imagine that there are still many areas in the Philippines that have no access to power. In fact, around 16 million Filipinos continue to live in communities that do not have electricity.

The Sinag Kiosk will provide access to energy and supply clean, potable water to the community. The kiosk and the water pumps will run on solar panels, in keeping with PSFI’s focus on renewables.

In Palawan, several communities—due to their distance to the main power grids—used to have no access at all to energy. Families in these areas had to make do with wood-fired stoves to cook their meals and candles and gas lamps to light up their homes at night.

That is, until PSFI came along with their A2E program, and the erstwhile unpowered communities now have their own renewable sources of energy.

Powering and empowering communities

The A2E project of PSFI—the social-investment arm of Pilipinas Shell—has been powering cities and off-grid communities in Palawan province through clean and renewable energy sources set up by the foundation.

Palawan is the location of the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project—an initiative by the Malampaya Consortium of which Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. is a member.

Shell Foundation’s lighting ceremony effectively ushered in the holiday season and marked the first time the community—home to 509 Tagbanuas—will be celebrating a brighter and more joyful Christmas. A2E’s Binaluan Micro-Grid will also be powering the city’s four-classroom school, a day-care center, a church, a purok center, a stage and street lights.

The Malampaya offshore platform draws natural gas from beneath the waters of the West Philippine Sea in Northern Palawan, and this fuels five power station plants with a total generating capacity of 3,200 megawatts. This provides up to 30 percent of the country’s power needs.

However, Shell found out that some remote off-grid communities in Northern Palawan continued to suffer from a lack of access to energy, as only 60 percent of households are connected to the main electric grid.

In El Nido alone, more than 5,300 households remain to be off-grid to-date and, without any intervention from external groups, they will remain without energy for quite some time.

The recognition of this need was what drove the PSFI to come up with the A2E program in Palawan—to specifically address the lack of access to energy concern and allow Shell to give back to the communities within Malampaya’s scope of operations.

A brighter Christmas for Palawan communities

Keeping a prime tourist destination like Palawan not only beautifully awe-inspiring but liveable as well is no small feat. One school of thought that I subscribe to is the belief that happily powered and empowered communities help considerably in a place’s upkeep. In this regard, A2E is truly on the right track.

A2E currently has five projects in Palawan, one of which is in Sitio Binaluan in Liminancong, Taytay. Just recently, the residents of the sitio held a ceremony in which the city’s Christmas tree was lit for the very first time.

The lighting ceremony effectively ushered in the holiday season and marked the first time the community—home to 509 Tagbanuas—will be celebrating a brighter and more joyful Christmas. A2E’s Binaluan Micro-Grid will also be powering the city’s four-classroom school, a day care center, a church, a purok center, a stage and street lights.

The A2E micro grids make use of a combination of solar, hydro, wind and diesel generator power to provide energy to clustered communities. For houses that are too far away from the grids, A2E has set up individual home systems for their energy requirements.

The other four A2E projects are in Sitio Kalakwasan, Barangay Decabaitot, Barangay Baras and Sitio Ligad, the newest beneficiary of the program. In the five A2E projects, some 337 houses are connected to the microgrids, while 370 houses were set up with individual home systems, for a total of 707 electrified houses in nine communities reached by A2E. Through these, some 3,316 people are now enjoying access to clean energy.

The social outcomes of A2E include livelihood creation, employment generation, training programs for capacity building, health and sanitation services, educational opportunities, new teaching tools, food security, and the preservation of culture and the arts.

Enriching experiences through the Sinag Kiosk

Another important element of the A2E program is the Sinag Kiosk, which is currently under construction in Sitio Logpan, New Ibajay in El Nido. Launched just recently, the Sinag Kiosk is the first solar kiosk in the country with a water chlorination system and was designed to provide an enterprise opportunity for the community composed mostly of indigenous people who rely on fishing as their main livelihood.

The kiosk will provide access to energy and supply clean, potable water to the community. The kiosk and the water pumps will run on solar panels, in keeping with PSFI’s focus on renewables.

Moreover, the Sinag Kiosk will offer solar home system units, clean-cook stoves, refrigerators and freezers for drinks, fish and other farm produce, and services such as mobile-phone charging. The kiosk can also serve as a “community center” and a “beacon of light” where people can hang out at the end of the day, watch a basketball game together live via the kiosk’s TV, or simply listen to the radio with friends and family.

Aptly enough, the Sinag Kiosk is the first A2E Social Impact Fund awardee, and rightfully so, considering how much that single project can enrich the lives of the people living in its vicinity. The good news is that the Sinag Kiosk is just the first of more kiosks that the PSFI plan to set up in the future.

With all the initiatives of advocates like Shell and PSFI in the communities of Palawan, we can rest assured that the province will remain a viable and exciting tourist destination for years to come.

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