Legality of DOE, Puerto Princesa waste-to-energy deal questioned

NON-GOVERNMENTAL organizations belonging to the No Burn Pilipinas (NBP) alliance questioned the legality of a contract signed by the Department of Energy (DOE) and local government officials for the establishment of a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility in Puerto Princesa City.

WTE is being seen as a viable option for local government units with no capacity to implement Republic Act 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000) to effectively address the country’s looming garbage crisis both by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC).

In a statement, NBP said they find the P2.1-billion WTE deal “dubious” and called on the project’s proponent to cancel the contract.

The NBP is composed of over 50 environmental-and climate-justice activist groups. Its leaders were reacting to the recent report on the contract signing between the DOE, Puerto Princesa City and Austworks Corp., the facility provider for the construction of a so-called WTE plant.

Under the deal, Austworks will build a “thermal gasification” WTE incinerator in the city’s Santa Lourdes Sanitary Landfill, as well as provide garbage-collection services.

The WTE plant will supposedly generate 5.5 megawatts of electricity from the city’s 110 metric tons per day of waste.

Clean air law

HOWEVER, the NBP claims the deal is illegal, since waste incineration is banned under the Clean Air Act.

It added that the energy to be produced by the facility, if any, will be minuscule, debunking the project proponent’s claim that the facility will pay for itself from the energy it will generate.

NBP also said there are no commercially operating thermal-gasification WTE incinerators anywhere in the world. The group added that the company involved has no known record for building similar facilities anywhere in the world.

“The planned waste-to-energy incinerator in Puerto Princesa is patently illegal under Philippine law,” NBP Spokesman Ruel C. Cabile was quoted in the statement as saying.

Cabile added the signing of the contract and the project’s implementation is a clear violation of the ban on incineration enshrined in the Clean Air Act.

“It also contravenes the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which the government should be strengthening,” he said. “Pursuing waste-to-energy incineration undermines segregation, recycling and reduction efforts—the very approaches that the government should be supporting.”

ECC violation

ACCORDING to Kathryn Leuch of NBP group member Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Puerto Princesa’s current sanitary landfill was intended to evolve into a zero-waste management program, as provided in the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued to the city government.

“The pursuit of WTE would result to a violation of the ECC,” Leuch said. “We hope that the Puerto Princesa City government can still reconsider its planned incineration project and prioritize zero-waste management in its development master plan.”

She added they were expecting Puerto Princesa City government officials to “sustain environmental-protection efforts” given that the city is a hall of fame awardee in the ‘Clean and Green Program’ of the Philippine government.

The NBP also questioned the DOE’s promotion of WTE incineration, saying it is the most expensive and inefficient way to produce electricity, with construction costing twice that of coal-fired power plants and 60 percent more than nuclear plants.

Moreover, its operations cost ten times more than coal and four times more than nuclear, according to the group Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ).

The PMCJ claims that “WTE incineration is bad for the climate and is not renewable energy.”

“It takes investments away from real energy solutions, such as wind and solar,” the group said.

More doubts

ANOTHER NBP group member, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia), noted in a document that “gasification plants are some of the most complex and expensive incinerators and are not recommended as suitable waste-treatment facilities in developing countries.”

“In fact, no commercial-scale gasification plant meant for the treatment of municipal solid waste exists anywhere in the world,” the group claims.

The group added it doubts the facility will actually operate successfully even if it is constructed.

“Gasification’s history of technical challenges and failures has led to shutdowns in operation, which have left some cities and taxpayers in debt, paying for prohibitively expensive facilities that never worked,” the PMCJ claims.

Environmental groups say that cities and municipalities should be extremely wary of incinerator companies selling the idea of “quick fix” incinerators.

Not first

THEY said the case of Palawan is not the first WTE deal that seems “too good to be true.”

In 2011 Angeles City was also lured into investing in a $63-million WTE facility. It never materialized, according to NBP.

In 2006 the City of San Fernando in Pampanga entered into a contract for a gasification facility that was started but never completed, the group added.

Shortly after the failure of the gasification plant, the City of San Fernando, chose to instead pursue a zero-waste program. The city was able to drastically reduce the volume of municipal waste in six months.

In the past, the city brought almost 90 percent of its waste to landfills. With its program, this figure was reduced to 30 percent in the last four years.

“Zero waste is still the best approach for the sustainable management of discards,” the NBP statement said. “Waste is a complex problem that can’t be solved by a machine that burns trash and merely converts solid waste to toxic air pollution. The government should support zero-waste approaches instead of partnering with incinerator companies that sell false solutions to cities and municipalities.”

Booming destination

PUERTO Princesa City is a booming tourist destination in the island-province of Palawan, considered as the country’s last ecological frontier. Home to the Puerto Princesa Underground River, it is teeming with lush forest and is the only carbon-neutral city in the Philippines.

Tourism and the city’s increasing population, however, is taking its toll on the environment, with garbage disposal increasingly becoming a health and environmental issue.

Puerto Princesa has a total population of 255,116 based on the 2015 Census of Population. Garbage produced daily has significantly increased from 110 tons a day in December last year to almost double in last three months of the year, according to local news reports quoting the city’s officials.

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Jonathan L. Mayuga is a journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.

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