Sweeney brings energy democracy conversation to the Philippines
By Wilson Fortaleza, Center for Power Issues and Initiatives (CPII)
Pasig City, Philippines, Sept 24th, 2016 — The Center for Power Issues and Initiatives (CPII) was very grateful to have, as its main speaker to the Conference on Financing Renewable Energy and Energy Democracy, Prof. Sean Sweeney of the Murphy Institute, City University of New York, and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED).
Held in 23-24 of September 2016, the conference, composed mainly of unions from the power sector, NGOs, and members of the academe, energetically discussed the concept of energy democracy and whether the Philippine government’s policies, specifically on financing renewable energy, would lead to the advancement of this alternative framework. Unions present were from the electric cooperatives and power generation and are affiliated to SENTRO. Unions from NAGKAISA also sent representatives. Finally, the unions resolved to include in their collective bargaining provisions on the shift to RE and just transition for those needing it.
The conference, which got a generous support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Philippine Office, was the fourth of a series on renewable energy organized by FES and the CPII. The first was on the proposed re-commissioning of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP); the second was on the impending power crisis; and the third was Getting TheRE, which discussed about the gaps in policies and program implementation that hinder the advance of green energy in the Philippines.
While acknowledging that energy democracy is a “contested” concept, Sweeney insisted that an alternative framework, which is an independent trade union and working class approach based on eco-socialist principles, must be vigorously pursued by the trade unions and social movements in addressing energy emergency, climate change, and the continuing control of private monopolies of the energy sector.
In his presentation Sweeney argued that despite the compelling statistics on climate and health crisis, energy production, particularly on power, continues to be dominated by fossil fuels,especially coal. Likewise, despite the rapid rise of renewable energy in the global energy mix, fossil fuel is not likely to be displaced soon as shown in the latest data of global energy consumption and carbon emissions.
However, Sweeney was very optimistic that the shift is reversible, not only because of the advancement in RE technology but also because the concept of energy democracy is gaining wide recognition and practical application all over the world. In Germany, for instance, 60 cities have reclaimed their grids from private companies and 5 UK cities are soon to follow.
Unfortunately, he added, acceptance of pro-market ideas is still dominating the union approach as in the case of social partnership and social dialogue framework that influence many EU trade unions.
After the conversation on energy democracy, a government bank, the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) discussed the limitations to its RE financing. Assistant Vice President Rustico Noli D. Cruz, said, the bank’s financing window can only be accessed by power companies and enterprises, including electric cooperatives. He added that other local banks are also awash with money which can be tapped for energy projects.
But when pressed by one participant on whether the bank is into coal financing, Cruz admitted that the bank also has a loan portfolio for coal plants.
On the other hand Pagibig, a government owned home mortgage and financing company told the participants that a solar home system can be availed now by active members for new housing, including those who already have existing loans with the fund.
The last session of the conference was a showcase of actual renewable energy projects that were already in place, one in the province of Romblon and one in Palawan.
The case of the Romblon Electric Cooperative’s (Romelco) vision of hitting the target of 90-10 (90 percent renewable and 10 percent non-renewable) elicited excitement and enthusiasm among the participants. Romelco currently manages a mini-hydro system in Sibuyan Island and a solar PV system in another island Cobrador, all in Romblon.
The conference adopted several resolutions, among them the unions’ decision to ask their cooperative board to go RE and to prioritize RE in their power supply agreements. Another one is for workers in the informal sector to negotiate with government to include RE system and subsidies in the socialized housing program. A resolution on Just Transition ‘for those who need it’ was also passed.