As Mainland Bohol Lay in Darkness, Pamilacan Shines

by: Atty Jun Amora

a repost from an article from the Bohol Chronicle 16 July 2017

Jun Amora is a close associate who has a strong advocacy for the environment. Here, he talks about solars and how we can help the next generation.

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Thanks to WeGen, Pamilacan Island now has daytime power for the entire community. (courtesy of WeGen)

“The world has turned upside down.”

This was the apt observation of Pamilacan, Baclayon barangay chair, Crispo Valeroso, on the current contrasting power situations between mainland Bohol and Pamilacan Island.

The tourist and fishing island with a population of around 3,000 used to plunge in darkness as it is too far and isolated to be connected to the power grid supplying electricity to the province’s main island.

Now, Pamilacan has power from 8 a.m. to 12 midnight, while mainland Bohol suffers through a debilitating power blackout owing to the total shutdown of the Tongonan, Leyte geothermal power plant – the province’s main energy source – brought by the recent 6.9 earthquake that hit Leyte.

The islanders only began enjoying the blessings of electricity in 1996 from a diesel generator thru BOHECO 1. But the gen-set operated only from 4 p.m. to midnight and cost an exorbitant rate of about P25 per kilowatt.

Later under the auspices and coverage of the NPC-Small Power Utilities Group, the rate was brought down to a subsidized rate of about P8 per kilowatt but still providing power for just eight hours during nighttime. At daytime, it was back to the primitive era.

All their lives the residents of Pamilacan did not have access to daytime electricity. Students could not use computers and teachers could not supplement their classes with video presentations. No electric fans cooled residents and tourists during the day. Fisherfolks could not refrigerate their daily catch.

But all these radically changed when WeGen Distributed Energy Philippines waded into the shores of the island middle of this year. The residents’ pipe dream of daytime electricity has become a reality.

WeGen, the newest player in the developing renewable energy sector in the country, has installed and donated a P10-million solar energy system in the island. It is now providing daytime power for more than 300 households in the community.

While most companies would exercise corporate responsibility in a community only after realizing profits from a business venture, WeGen dares to be different: It gives even before it has received.

Last May 18 the turnover ceremony of the new solar photovoltaic and battery storage system was personally graced by German Ambassador Dr. Gordon Kricke together with Michael Saalfeld, WeGen founder and chairman, Atty. Sarge Sarmiento, WeGen Philippines CEO, and national and local officials.

Dubbed as the “Kahayag sa Pamilacan” project, the system – which produces 39 KW of power – is comprised of 135 monocrystalline solar panels connected to deep-cycle silicon power maintenance-free and environmentally-friendly batteries with a capacity of 200 ampere hours.

The solar panels have been mounted on the rooftop of the Pamilacan National High School building which has been retrofitted to support the solar panels with performance life of at least 25 years.

According to Atty. Sarmiento, the Pamilacan solar energy system is a perfect showcase of WeGen’s “Power of Sharing” vision to make sustainable energy available anytime, anywhere, and for everyone.

Off-grid communities like Pamilacan can enjoy the benefits of expanded access to clean energy through Stand-alone Island Solar Solutions in Distributed Energy Resources (DER), the generation of renewable energy from decentralized sites such as rooftops combined with battery storage and software solutions.

“We have chosen Pamilacan as a proof of concept on how innovative technology in renewable energy championed through a win-win partnership among business, local government units, electric cooperativesand local stakeholders can transform a marginalized community into an excellent eco-tourism destination for its sustainable socio-economic development,” Sarmiento said.

“WeGen firmly believes that the best solution to address the electricity needs of a tropical archipelago is to use distributed solar energy. Installation is fast, and you won’t need to use submarine cables to connect to the national grid. Equally important is that it is very environment-friendly, which is something all countries need to consider when addressing the growing energy problems as framed within the reality of climate change,” he added.

The project also highlights available energy solutions for Bohol’s current power situation. Presently, almost 90% of Bohol’s total energy demand is sourced out of Leyte. This dependence has already been proven to be disastrous to the province, first in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda in 2013 and now after the Leyte earthquake.

A home-grown source of power is needed by Bohol to address the growing demand for resiliency and reliable electricity as the province experiences an economic boom from tourism and investments. To support this growth, Bohol government leaders should consider various power generation options, including clean, renewable, and sustainable energy.

While some sectors propose the establishment of coal-powered plants as a solution to the province’s acute independent power needs,  many oppose the idea as a knee-jerk response that only exposes Boholanos to environmental and health hazards. Besides, it takes years to construct a coal-powered plant while it takes only months to set up a solar energy system.

Also, previously coal-munching countries like China and India have been cancelling plans to build coal-fired power stations and are going instead into green energy with the price for solar electricity, now “free falling” to low levels.

It would, thus, be ludicrous for Bohol to embrace an energy system that uses one of the planet’s most polluting fossil fuels and which other places are already abandoning and shutting down.

Bohol, with its white beaches, is “powdered” by sand; should it not be also “powered” now by the sun?

Pamilacan Island has shown and shone the way. It would be a pity if the rest of Bohol does not take heed and instead chose to remain and grope in “darkness.”

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