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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, October 17, 2016
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Conservation Matters

EDC geothermal project
facing legal issue

The geothermal energy development project of the Energy Development Corporation at the buffer zone of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park may face another legal issue once the environment activist group, Green Alert Negros, will file a Special Civil Action for Writ of Kalikasan or Writ of Continuing Mandamus.

This proposed action may be undertaken by the GAN once the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will not favorably respond to its demand in revoking the Environmental Compliance Certificate issued to the geothermal project.

Primarily, the GAN reasoned out that the ECC should be revoked given that the EDC failed to produce the expected 40 megawatts of geothermal energy out of its operations at the buffer zone of the MKNP. The EDC has forced to shut down its operation at the MKNP when it found out that only about eight megawatts of geothermal energy could be sourced out from the area. The GAN further opined that the geothermal project is in violation of Republic Act 7586, or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, which prohibits energy exploration and development in protected areas categorized and declared as natural parks and strict nature reserves.

I have reservations to cite the NIPAS Act against the presence of the EDC's geothermal project at the MKNP. For one, before the approval of the geothermal project, MKNP was not yet declared as a natural park. It was precisely the condition that was maximized by the then government controlled Philippine National Oil Corporation – Energy Development Corporation to lobby and work for the declaration of the buffer zone, in as much that energy development in natural parks is prohibited. Technically, buffer zone is outside the boundary of the protected area, as provided for in the NIPAS Act.

The buffer zone was declared, along with the designation of the then Mount Canlaon National Park or what is known today as the MKNP, by virtue of RA 9154, or the MKNP Act of 2001. Under this legislation, 169 hectares were sliced from the original boundary of the national park, leaving 24,388 hectares as the land area of the MKNP.

I am in agreement that the DENR should review the ECC it granted to the EDC, given the downsizing of the geothermal energy production from the original intention. In addition, there is also a need to review if the presence and operations of the EDC at the buffer zone of the MKNP are all in pursuant to RA 9154 and other relevant forestry and environmental regulations. The review should further include determining if various conditions stipulated in the ECC were complied with.

One important consideration in relation to this geothermal project of the EDC is Section 5 of RA 9154, which states, “That areas within the buffer zone which shall not be used directly for the development and utilization of geothermal energy shall remain under the control and jurisdiction of the PAMB”.

The PAMB, or the Protected Area Management Board, serves as the site-based policy and administrative body of the MKNP. As such, if the EDC does not anymore use the area at the buffer zone for geothermal energy development, then it is only logical that the DENR and PAMB shall take over it.

RA 9154 is very explicit that the buffer zone of the MKNP shall only be used for geothermal energy development. This is the very reason why I also dissented to earlier proposal of the EDC to establish a solar power plant at the buffer zone of the MKNP. The continuing presence of the EDC at the buffer zone, if it could no longer source out enough geothermal energy, is puzzling. In 2012, the EDC announced that it forged technical agreement with experts from the United States and New Zealand in conducting technical evaluation as to the viability of its operations at the buffer zone.

I don't know if such technical evaluation was carried out, and, if so, what was the result?*


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