Sugar producers set up group to put up biomass power plants in Visayas

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SUGAR producers have banded together to combat climate change while addressing the dwindling power supply in the Visayas

Jose Maria Zabaleta, Bronzeoak Philippines Inc. president, has recently organized the Renewable Biomass Energy Alliance.

Zabaleta said members of the alliance include the Philippine Sugar Millers Association, Biomass Plc. Corp., Global Green Power Plc. Corp., Hawaiian Philippine Co., Central Azucarera de Don Pedro, Central Azucarera de la Carlotta, Magallanes Bioenergy Inc., Hacienda Bioenergy Corp., Philippine Biosciences Co., Novergy, San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. and San Carlos BioPower.

Zabaleta said they are looking at initially setting up a 100-megawatt (MW) biomass power plant.

“But with the proper incentives in place as envisioned in the Renewable Energy Act, the alliance could actually put up 300 MW of biomass capacity in the Visayas,” Zabaleta said.

He added that the plant they plan to put up will use sugar-cane trash and rice husks and hulls as feedstock.

But the completion of the plant, according to Zabaleta, will depend on how fast the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) would act on its putting in place the feed-in-tariff as envisioned in the Renewable Energy Act.

Zabaleta said one of the main reasons they organized the group is to encourage the departments of Energy, Agriculture and Environment and Natural Resources to support this movement.

He said they are hoping to have the ERC establish a remunerative feed-in-tariff rate so as to make this happen.

“This [feed-in-tariff] is what the renewable-energy law calls for, and we want to ask for fast-track implementation,” he added.

For as long as ERC does not recognize that clean energy must realistically be more expensive than coal, he argued that the money will go to Filipino farmers.

He added that sugar millers have the potential to produce more than 300 MW from bagasse alone, not including the ethanol plants that also produce bagasse. All the power plants can be built as soon as possible to maximize available cane trash, rice hulls and hay, coco shells and fronds, he said.

“We will not be able to make this happen. We are suffering daily brownouts in Bacolod in Negros and Iloilo in Panay and the rest of the Visayas, as Manila and Luzon suffered in the early ’90s, but the ERC up to now has not moved to establish feed-in tariff rates at a level that cane mills and cane farmers can charge enough to put up the necessary logistics and new high pressure boilers that can supply the equivalent of a giant coal plant,” Zabaleta said.

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