Palace open to proposal to convert Bataan nuclear plant

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

MALACANANG is looking into a possibility of converting the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) into a natural gas-powered facility to ease the country's growing demand for energy.

In a regular media briefing in Malacanang on Tuesday, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that it is time to take a second look on how BNPP could be useful.

"Mainam na pag-aralan ang panukalang ‘yan kung ito ay posible at kapaki-pakinabang.Naipanukala na rin ‘yan noong nakaraan at siguro pwede na ring balik-tanawin ‘yung mga resulta ng mga naging pag-aaral. At ito rin ay naimungkahi, katulad ng binanggit mo, ng ibang mga private investors, at dahil sa mga kadahilanang, ‘yan ay napapanahon na bigyan ito muli ng masusing pag-aaral," he said when asked if the government is willing to consider a proposal in Congress to convert the nuclear plant into a gas-fired plant.

Proponents of the conversion of the BNPP have said that operating the plant would be easy because the country has natural gas in Palawan.

Instead of spending P26 million annually on the plant’s maintenance, the government could convert it to produce 1,800 megawatts of power, they said.

Oriental Mindoro Representative Rey Umali, chair of the House committee on energy, earlier proposed to convert the BNPP to gas-fired power plant.

The possibility of converting the mothballed power plant came as the country, particularly Luzon, could experience power shortage by 2015.

Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla has proposed for emergency powers for President Benigno Aquino III to address the looming power crisis.

Coloma said the Department of Energy (DOE) anticipates that between March and May of 2015, there could be a possible shortfall of 200 megawatts.

"On account of which, Secretary Jericho Petilla is proposing an additional capacity of 200 to 300 (megawatts), making a total of 400 to 500 megawatts in new capacity in Luzon and parts of the Visayas," he said.

"Ang nililinaw niya (Petilla) ay nagiging proactive lamang siya at ang Department of Energy sa paghahain ng impormasyon na maaaring magkaroon ng shortfall sa summer months na even for a brief period ay hindi ito dapat magdulot ng ligalig sa ating mga mamamayan," Coloma said.

Under the existing Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) or Republic Act 9136, the private sector has the primary responsibility for providing new generation capacity, and the government may step in only if there is an emergency.

"Hence, he (Petilla) says, there is a need for the government to study at this point whether this course of action is warranted way ahead of the projected time of shortfall," Coloma said.

He attributed the impending power shortage to "dynamic" factors, such as an increase in demand for electricity due to economic growth, as well as the "unscheduled breakdowns" of old power plants.

He also noted that the shortfall might be incurred despite the construction of several power plants, which will be operational by the second half of 2015.

Giving the President emergency powers to address the impending power crisis is just one of the options, Coloma said.

"Kaya naman naipanukala niya (Petilla) na ngayon pa lang, habang maaga, pag-aralan na ito para masuri kung ano ang iba't ibang opsyon," he added.

Aquino met with Petilla to discuss his proposal and the power situation in the country. (SDR/Sunnex)

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