Ludo Power Rising in Cebu City: Is There Such a Thing as Clean Coal?

It’s round two of the Ludo Power plant tug-of-war. On the other end of the rope, it’s the residents of Sawang Calero together with the coalition, Cebuanos Against Coal. On the other, it’s Ludo Power Corp. wanting to build a 300-MW coal-fired power plant right in its dissenters’ backyard.

LUDO COAL PLANT/APRIL 21, 2016: An aerial shot of LUDO Corporation in Barangay Sawang Calero, where a proposed Coal Powered Plant will be place.(CDN PHOTO/FERDINAND EDRALIN)

An aerial shot of LUDO Corporation in Barangay Sawang Calero, where a proposed Coal Powered Plant will be place.(CDN PHOTO/FERDINAND EDRALIN)

Round One: Cebuanos Against Coal Wins

Protesters only had a short breather when the Cebu City Council rejected the proposed Ludo and Luym Power Plant sometime April last year. That was round one. Now, the tides have turned much to the dismay of those against the project.

It seems that stakeholders of such a huge project as the Ludo and Luym Power Plant will not stop at going around, under and over every obstacle. The first hurdle was when the Council rejected the proposal in April 2016 saying the plant was “environmentally harmful” and that the proposed location in SRP was not appropriate for the power plant being classified as low intensity industrial (I-1). A power plant needs to be built in a district rated medium or high intensity industrial (I-2).

Round Two: Ludo Power Corp. Wins

Hence, in December 2016, the proponents of the Ludo and Luym Power Plant worked on a resolution for the reclassification of the proposed power plant location. The Council has since approved the request and has referred the same to Cebu City Zoning Board (CCZB) and the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) for evaluation. The CCZB has already given a thumbs up to the project explaining that after considering the benefits of the proposed power plant, “[the board] is not adverse to granting” the reclassification request.

That said, if this were a sports bout, the score is even at 1:1. Tthe fight continues, and there’s no telling who will win. Even local officials are divided. Mayor Tomas Osmeña has expressed his sentiments about the proposed power plant saying that it would have been okay if it were just a 30 MW plant. He added that a 300 MW power plant is “outrageous”. But then again, LPC is on hot pursuit for the Mayor’s eventual approval.

With all the chaos and noise concerning the Ludo and Luym Power Plant, we would like to dig deeper into the issue and tackle the pros and cons of having such a huge power plant in the middle of a densely populated barangay within a highly developing city. We also like to understand the truth behind “clean coal technology” if there really is such a thing.

Advantages of a Coal-Fired Power Plant

There are always two sides to a coin. In this case, the proposed Ludo and Luym Power Plant in Sawang Calero has advantages. So how can it benefit the city and the people, particularly the immediate residents of the neighborhood?

  1. Generation of Jobs – The Ludo and Luym Power Plant is expected to provide 1,000 jobs, 200 of which are reserved for residents of Sawang Calero. Job generation was the main reason why the CCZB said the power plant project was difficult to refuse.
  1. Additional Power Supply – Joel Garganera, City Council and head of the environment and energy committees said that Central Visayas requires 1,800 MW of power, half of which is consumed by Cebu Island. He added that Cebu’s power consumption is increasing, heightening the need for additional power sources.
  1. Cheaper Power Cost – Coal is one of the least expensive sources of energy, and is the primary source of power not only in the Philippines but other countries as well. If the LPC power plant project gets through, there will be additional power supply and consequently a decrease in electricity charges.
  1. Company-Funded Projects – LPC promised that if the power plant project pushes through they would fund several other smaller projects, which will benefit not only Sawang Calero but also neighboring barangays.

a. Improved boardwalk covering four barangays priced at P50 million, which will jumpstart or improve cottage and small businesses in the area

b. 10-bed mini hospital, exact location to be determined

c. Fire substation, which is actually quite useful in a neighborhood where fire incident seems to be a common problem

d. Street lighting in four barangays

e. College scholarships to selected residents of four barangays, which Mayor Osmeña suggested to be given to 4,000 scholars each receiving P40,000 per year. LPC, meanwhile, would like to decrease the scholarship grants to accommodate other aforementioned projects.

  1. Cleaner Seas and Shorelines – A coal-fired power plant is ideally built near a body of water not just for easy transport of coal, but also for easy access to water. Water is an essential material used in the operation of the plant’s boiler. It is boiled to create steam, which powers the turbine and generate energy. But before the plant can use seawater for steam, it has to go through desalination and purification. The plant also needs fresh but clean seawater to cool its equipment and prevent it from overheating. Thus, the plant must make sure that the seawater and nearby shoreline are free of unwanted debris and dirt, which may destroy the plant’s equipment. And we all know how dirty the Pasil bay is. At least, LPC will fund efforts to maintain cleanliness of the nearby sea.
  1. Production of Potable Water – Seawater suctioned into the plant’s desalination facility is suitable not just for industrial purposes, but also household purposes such as drinking and cooking. If LPC wills it, it can actually provide potable water for free or at a lower cost to the community.

Disadvantages of a Coal-Fired Power Plant

  1. Acid Rain and Global Warming – Burning of coal produces dangerous emissions and wastes like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ash or particulate matter. These emissions and wastes increase greenhouse gases, which cause acid rain and global warming.
  1. Potential Risks to Health – Coal-fired power plant by-products are not only harmful to the environment, but also to the health of the people and animals living nearby. The LPC location is just a stone’s throw away from the densely populated barangays of Duljo Fatima, Sawang Calero and Pasil, and very much near business centers and tourist spots. In fact, Kurdapya Jones showed in her video just how close Ludo and Missionaries of the Poor, an orphanage in Sawang Calero.
  1. Damaging Effects on Wildlife – Coal, coal ash, fly ash and other pollutants from power plants that spill into the soil, river systems and seas have damaging effects on wildlife both on land, freshwater and sea.
  1. Waste Disposal Issue – The city already has a grave concern regarding waste disposal. We are already plagued by having inadequate garbage trucks, controversial dumpsites or landfills, poor implementation of garbage segregation laws. The common tao aren’t conscious enough about their carbon footprint. If a big corporation such as LPC adds to the problem, then the waste disposal issue grows from worse to worst. Understand that a coal-fired power plant generates millions of tons of waste that can’t be reused or recycled, and contain hazardous chemicals.

We’ve omitted on purpose the impact of coal mining to the environment and to the miner’s health. We chose not to discuss this in depth here to focus on the direct effects of the Ludo power plant to the Cebuanos. What we must understand, however, is that we all live in the same planet, where everything is interconnected. We must also understand that some of the damaging effects of human activities are irreversible and chronic. This means that what has been done can’t be undone. And it may remain a problem, and can get worse unless we stop destroying and start caring for our environment.

What is Clean Coal Technology?

That brings us to this debatable topic. Clean coal. Is there such a thing?

One of the arguments raised by LPC and many of its predecessors in the industry is the implementation of clean coal technology. In fact, the Province of Cebu is home to the country’s first commercial clean-coal facility.

Let’s validate this claim.

Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels – that’s how Science: How Stuff Works described it. However, we mine coal because of its many uses – production of plastic, tar, fertilizer, steel, as well as generation of power.

In an article, the National Geographic mentioned that coal provides 40% of the world’s electricity and produces 39% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. NatGeo added that not only is coal the dirtiest fossil fuel but also the most lethal, killing thousands of people each year in the mines and others through pollution. NatGeo said that coal can never be clean.

Perhaps our only hope, because we’re too dependent on coal, is to know whether coal can ever be made clean and safe enough.

Clean coal technology is the application of several technologies created to mitigate or reduce the hazards of coal use. Meaning to say, it can only reduce, but not eradicate completely, the harmful effects of coal to the environment.

Clean coal technology’s main aim is to reduce atmospheric impact of coal use, particularly among coal-fired power plants. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are the two by-products of coal most notorious for causing acid rain and health hazards. Modern clean coal technology has been developed to effectively reduce to a tolerable minimum the environmental impacts of these two gases.

Therefore to say there is such thing as clean coal is a lie. Clean coal technology is actually a misleading term to label a collection of technologies that doesn’t actually make coal clean, but only a little less dirty. Still, dirty though.

Sad but true: there is no such thing as clean coal. And it may be more appropriate to rename clean coal technology as coal-impact-mitigating technology, although clean coal technology does sound alluring. Misleading but alluring, nonetheless.

At any rate, we should not blame coal or coal-fired power plants for all the bad things that’s happening to our environment. At the personal level, we Cebuanos also have to do our share to show that we’re not just noisy complainers, but that we truly care for our city, our community and our family. After all, it’s quite easy to point the blame at big industries and businesses. But we should use the same standard of scrutiny and ask ourselves these questions:

How about my carbon footprint and my overall environmental impact? How responsible and faithful am in taking care of the world I live in? Do I observe proper disposal of garbage? What can I do to mitigate my impact on the environment? Am I conscious enough to make a difference no matter how small it may be? Or am I merely passing on the blame to others?

Truly, we have tough questions to answer and tougher tasks to do, but it’s always easier to point the finger at someone else. As far as the Ludo power plant is concerned, round three can’t be too far away. While waiting, let’s be intentional in showing we truly care for Mother Nature.