FINAL REPORT ON THE SBMA SOCIAL ACCEPTABILITY PROCESS FOR RP ENERGY, INC.’S 600MW COAL-FIRED POWER PLANT PROJECT
I. Program Objectives
The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority’s Social Acceptability Process (SAP) for the Redondo Peninsula Energy 600-MW Coal-Fired Power Plant project aimed to achieve the following objectives:
- To present experts’ inputs and insights to the various stakeholder groups that are to be affected and impacted by the power plant project;
- To consult and consider the stakeholder groups’ inputs and opinions of on the project; and
- To arrive at a general and common consensus among these groups.
Invitations and notices were issued to the following major stakeholder groups to attend the SAP:
- Contiguous local government units (LGUs)
- Business sector within and/or contiguous to the Freeport
- Tourism sector within and/or contiguous to the Freeport
- Freeport workers
- Freeport residents
- Aeta communities
Each session opened with background presentations from the SBMA, consisting of “SBMA Legal Mandates and Premises” by SBMA Dir. Philip G. Camara, and “Environmental Concerns on the RPEI Coal Power Plant” by Mr. Angel Bagaloyos of the SBMA’s Ecology Center.
Highlighting each session were presentations by resource persons and experts on various fields related to the project, and an open forum portion for the participants.
A total of 155 participants coming from the five (5) major stakeholder groups participated in the process with each group scheduled correspondingly throughout the three-day affair.
While each stakeholder group was generally well-represented, certain groups were not present during the event. Foremost and most noticeable was the absence of any representatives from Redondo Peninsula Energy Inc. (RPEI), the major proponent of the project. There was also no representation from the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce and the Municipality of Subic, Zambales.
Conducted on December 7-9, 2011 at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center., the SAP was facilitated by SBMA Director Norberto J. Sosa.
III. Stakeholders’ Standpoint
The overall persuasion of the participants was a clear aversion to the concept of an operational coal-fired power plant. Taken as a whole, their concerns ranged from environmental to health to economic and socio-cultural factors:
- LGUs expressed their apprehension regarding the lack of direct financial benefits to their communities and the apparent health risks that the power plant project would pose to their citizenry. They also stated that the project deviated from the development initiatives they had established in their districts.
- The Aeta communities, as registered landowners within the Freeport, voiced their unease at the possibility of being affected by acid rain potentially triggered by the operation of the power plant.
Their main contention was the potential contamination of their water supply and the degradation and eventual ruin of the Dipterocarp rainforests and the contiguous areas,which are the primary source of their livelihood (mainly hunting, fishing, honey-gathering and crop farming). They also expressed their worry over the effect these factors would have on their progenies and their heritage in the long run.
- The tourism sector put across their distinct denunciation of the power plant project due to its potential effect on the tourism industry in the Freeport.
Among other facts, they stated that the toxic air and liquid discharge that would emit from the power plant would pose hazards to tourists in the area and in time, diminish the viability of Subic Bay as a tourist destination. They also stated that the coal ash ponds and dumpsites would contaminate the bay.
Another concern they put forth was the impairment that the power plant would pose to the aesthetics of the bay. According to them, the imagery of a large smoke plumb would be very detrimental to the overall aesthetics of the area.
- Freeport residents also conveyed their strong opposition to the project on the grounds that the potential health risks to them would be a strong disincentive to present and future Freeport residents. They also criticized the project as violating the ecological and economic credo that the SBMA has been advocating since its founding.
Majority of the participants also contended that unlike tourism-based and seaport-related enterprises, the power plant would only employ a total of 150 workers for the next 25 years. They added that the project would be incompatible with the image of the SBMA, which had always sought to strike a balance between environmental conservation and economic development. They also added that the project would not provide an efficient revenue stream for the agency.
The participants likewise claimed that the previous SBMA administration ignored information gathered during the Integrated Coastal Resource Management Planning for Subic Bay, which could have served as basis for rejecting the power plant project proposal.
They also asserted that RPEI displayed a blatant lack of respect and arrogance to the local authorities by ignoring the resolutions of various surrounding communities against the project. They furthered that the failure of RPEI to participate in the SAP attested to this fact.
The collective opinion among the participants was for the SBMA to terminate the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and the Lease and Development Agreement (LDA) between the agency and RPEI on the grounds of the substantial violation to the agreement and the grossly disadvantageous nature of the LDA.
The participants settled on the decision that the SBMA should pursue alternative and renewable energy sources for the Freeport and that there a more independent and vigilant Environmental Monitoring Team and a more substantial Environmental Guarantee Fund requisite should be put in place for all future projects.
A few locators nonetheless expressed the importance of adhering to contractual obligations and not making arbitrary changes to the contract carried out by the previous SBMA Board of Directors.
IV. Experts’ Opinion
The forum expert panel was composed of three (3) specialists with diverse fields of expertise. The first was Dr. Rex Cruz, chancellor of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, who imparted his opinion as a forest ecology expert. The second was Dr. Visitacion Antonio, a toxicologist who related information regarding public health. The third specialist was Mr. Andre Jon Uychiaco who presented his opinion as a marine biologist.
The specialists shared the judgment that the conditions were not present to merit the operation of a coal-fired power plant, and to pursue and carry out the project with confidence and assurance that the natural assets and ecosystems within the Freeport area would not be unduly compromised, or that irreversible damage would not occur and that the threats to the flora and fauna within the immediate community and its surroundings would be adequately addressed.
The three experts were also of the same opinion that the proposed coal plant project would pose a wide range of negative impacts on the environment, the ecosystems and human population within the impact zone.
The specialists likewise deemed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted by RPEI to be incomplete and limited in scope based on the following observations:
- The assessment failed to include areas 10 km. to 50 km. from the operation site, although according to the panel, sulfur emissions could extend as far as 40-50 km.
- The EIA neglected to include other forests in the Freeport in its scope and that there were no specific details on the protection of the endangered flora and endemic fauna in the area. Soil, grassland, brush land, beach forests and home gardens were also apparently not included in the study.
- The sampling methods used in the study were limited and insufficient for effective long-term monitoring of surface water, erosion control and terrestrial flora and fauna.
The specialists also discussed the potential effects of an operational coal-fired power plant to its environs and the community therein. Primary among these were the following:
- Formation of acid rain, which would adversely affect the trees and vegetation in the area which, in turn, would diminish forest cover. The acid rain would also apparently worsen the acidity of the soil in the Freeport.
- Warming and acidification of the seawater in the bay, resulting in the bio-accumulation of contaminants and toxic materials which would eventually lead to the overall reduction of marine productivity.
- Discharge of pollutants such as Nitrous Oxide, Sodium Oxide, Ozone and other heavy metals such as mercury and lead to the surrounding region, which would adversely affect the health of the populace in the vicinity.
Based on their analyses of the subject matter, the specialists recommended that the SBMA re-scrutinize the coal-fired power plant project with the following goals in mind:
- To ensure its coherence and compatibility to SBMA mandate, vision, mission and development plans, including its Protected Area Management Plan;
- To properly determine actual and potential costs and benefits;
- To effectively determine the impacts on environment and health; and
- To ensure a complete and comprehensive impacts zone study.
The specialists also urged the SBMA to conduct a Comprehensive Cost And Benefit Analysis Of The Proposed Coal Plant Project Relative To Each Stakeholder Which Should Include The Environment As Provider Of Numerous Environmental Goods And Services.
They also recommended an Integrated/Programmatic Environmental Impact Assessment to accurately determine the environmental status of the Freeport ecosystem as basis and reference in evaluating future similar projects. The need for a more Comprehensive Monitoring System for the Environment and Natural Resources was also reiterated by the panel.
Reference: Board Resolution 12-04-4387 on the “Social Acceptability Process For Rp Energy, Inc.’S 600MW Coal-Fired Power Plant Project". (Click here)