Air pollution from coal-fired PH power plants causing hundreds of deaths per year, says think tank

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 13 2020 05:28 AM

Despite years of laying the groundwork for a greener economy, the Philippines' energy mix remains predominantly brown. Photo by Pixabay
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MANILA — Hundreds of people are dying in the Philippines every year because of air pollution coming from 28 coal-fired power plants in the country, and figures are set to increase if the country continues to rely on coal plants, a study has revealed. 

Isabela Suarez, analyst at Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said air pollution in the country is a “health crisis in the making.” 

The group’s study showed that 28 coal-fired power plants caused 630 air pollution-related deaths every year, and nearly 68 percent of the estimated premature deaths were in Luzon. 

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“The real danger for air pollution on our health is long-term exposure. the longer we are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution, the higher the risk. The sooner we could address this problem, and the sooner we could control emissions . . . The better it is for our health, the more reduced the cost would be,” Suarez said in an interview on ANC. 

The Department of Energy in late October announced a moratorium on accepting new applications for greenfield coal power plants but coal plants under construction and with approved permits can proceed. 

According to the DOE’s statement, the moratorium on the endorsements for such plants, coupled with the opening up of the country’s geothermal sector to “greater foreign investments,” was just some of the innovations the agency will be implementing.

“As the [DOE] re-evaluates the appropriateness of our current energy mix vis-a-vis our energy goals, I am optimistic that this would lead to more opportunities for renewable energy to figure prominently in our country's energy future,” Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi had said. 

But Suarez said the country would be dependent on coal energy in the next 40 years as some coal-powered power plants are still in the pipeline. 

These proposed plants will be responsible for 26,000 premature deaths among Filipinos “over its lifetime,” she said. 

“These are deaths that could have been entirely avoided without pollution from these coal-fired power plants . . . Those most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution (are) elderly, children, people with pre-existing conditions, as well as pregnant women,” Suarez added. 

The government, she said, should instead start focusing on renewable energy to prevent these deaths especially during the time when the world is battling COVID-19. 

“It is time to go all in on renewable energy… It is really a no-brainer when we look at these health costs and these economic costs, they have long been ignored or haven't been prioritized in our energy transition,” Suarez said. 

“This needs to be prioritized in the time of COVID which is a health pandemic, and coal plants are also a health crisis in the making.”