[The following is a term paper that I wrote for STS 1 (Science, Technology, and Society), University of the Philippines Los Baños, 2nd semester AY 2014-2015.]
The world faces the problem of finding new energy sources. As supplies of fossil fuels are limited, there is a focus on finding sources of renewable energy. With renewable energy, we can produce electricity and, at the same time, the damage to the environment is minimal, if not none at all.
One of the emerging sources of renewable energy in the Philippines is wind power. This is evident in the establishment of windmill projects spanning three municipalities in the province of Ilocos Norte.
The province, situated in the northern tip of Luzon island, is now being coined as the renewable energy capital of the country because of the nationally famous windmills.
The windmills in Bangui, situated in the Bangui Bay shores, is operated by Northwind Power Development Corporation. The new windmill project in Burgos town, located in a mountainous area spanning three barangays, is operated by the Energy Development Corporation. There is another windmill project in Caparispisan village in Pagudpud, the northernmost town of Ilocos Norte. This is operated by AC Energy Holdings, which is affiliated to the Ayalas.
A lot of electricity is produced in these windmill projects. The Pagudpud project is expected to produce 81 MW of power (Reyes, 2014). The Burgos project, meanwhile, can produce 150 MW.
These windmills are computer-operated and maintained. These windmills can also orient themselves to the direction of the wind on their own (Jimeno, 2007).
Before proceeding with the paper, it has to be disclosed that this writer is from the province of Ilocos Norte. This allows the writer to give a local perspective on the windmills that are an awe for people from other parts of the country.
Gains: Green Energy, Tourism
Supporting these investments is Republic Act 9513, or the Renewable Energy Act of 2008. The law “prioritizes connections to the grid for electricity generated from emerging renewable energy resources, and the purchase and transmission of and payment for such electricity by the grid system operators.” (Adriano, 2014)
Since wind energy is a form of renewable energy, it is definitely environment-friendly. As the US Department of Energy (2011) says, wind power “is an indigenous, homegrown energy source” and is “an inexhaustible renewable energy source.” This means that wind will always be there to power the windmills, unlike fossil fuels, which are finite and exhaustive.
In 2005, then Ilocos Norte Governor Ferdinand Marcos said that the province is now “oil-efficient;” because of the windmills, the province relies less on non-renewable power. He was quoted by The Ilocos Times’ Leilanie Adriano as saying (2005):
Ngayon halos lahat ng kuryente ng probinsiya doon nanggagaling. ‘Yung peak na 24 MW during evening ay nakakaya na ng windmill. So, hindi na tayo bumibili (Presently the province’s whole power supply is generated by the windmill. The province’s peak demand of 24 MW during evenings can now be supplied by the windmill). So if anything, Ilocos Norte is the most oil efficient province in the Philippines because when the windmill is running and providing the maximum output, then we are not buying anything from Napocor.
The windmill projects have also provided jobs to the locals. As reported by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s Jaileen Jimeno (2007), Northwind hired people in the locality to maintain some of its facilities, such as the power substation and electricity cables.
The windmill projects have also given rise to another industry: tourism. A lot of tourists flock to these windmills to see its enormity. In 2006, then Bangui Mayor Wilfred Garces said that on an average, 200 visitors come to the town to visit the windmills. He also added that most of these visitors are students on field trips (Adriano, 2005).
But Do We Really Reap Supposed Benefits?
Despite being the home of three large windmill projects – and despite claims that these windmills will make Ilocos Norte lessen its dependence on non-renewable energy, at present, contrary to what people outside of the Ilocos provinces know, Ilocanos are actually not getting much of their electricity from these windmill projects.
It was cited earlier that former Governor, now Senator Bongbong Marcos said that almost all of Ilocos Norte’s energy needs is supplied by the windmill projects. But that was in 2005.
A lot of people outside Ilocos Norte think that because the province boasts of its windmills, electricity rates in the province are definitely lower. But, no, it is not. Even the province’s power retailer admitted multiple times that not much benefits yet from these windmill projects in terms of actual electricity are felt in the province.
INEC officer-in-charge Engr. Felino Herbert Agdigos told The Ilocos Times’ Dominic dela Cruz (2014) that the electricity generated from the Bangui windmills are actually directly sold to the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM). The same Ilocos Times report revealed that 90% of INEC’s power supply is from San Miguel Energy Corporation; their contract lasts until 2016. The rest is sourced from WESM.
The same explanation was also given in a radio program of the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative (INEC). In 2013, the late William Marders, INEC public information officer, said that they are not getting any electricity supply from these windmill projects yet. He added that the power generated by these projects go directly to the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).
More recently, Dr. Mario Marasigan of the Department of Energy espoused the following explanation during a press conference of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation committee on new renewable energy, part of which was broadcast on ABS-CBN Laoag’s TV Patrol Ilocos (2015):
As you may know, all the generation of your wind farms are supposedly to be exported to the main grid down to Manila because all Filipinos … are assumed to utilize wind energy generation, and share also the costs…
This means that the electricity provider for the province of Ilocos Norte is directly getting none of the energy produced by the windmills. However, as DOE’s Marasigan explained, it is shared throughout power consumers aligned to the Luzon grid.
The Ilocos Times, in its May 28, 2006 editorial critical of INEC’s overcharging (which was discovered by the Energy Regulatory Commission that year), argued “The highly touted windmills—which was earlier thought to bring down power rates in the province—is serving more as a tourist attraction than anything else. Power rates in the province remain to be among the highest in the country…”
Also, the build-up to the new windmill project in Pagudpud was met with flak from several residents of Bangui. In a report by The Ilocos Times’ Leilanie Adriano (2014), the transmission towers built for the project, connecting the Pagudpud windmill farm to the Luzon grid, “violated their property rights and endangered their families.”
In fact, a November 24-30, 2014 The Ilocos Times report revealed, during the launch of the Pagudpud windmills of AC Energy Holdings, about 15 families protested and asserted that their rights were breached after transmission lines and towers were installed within the vicinity of their homes, causing undue risks to them.
In Malasin village in Bangui, at least 18 families were affected, a separate report in the same paper’s November 17-23 issue revealed. Several homes in Abaca and Dadaor villages in the same town were also affected.
However, the provincial government seemed to find a way to still benefit from these windmills. In the same APEC press conference cited earlier, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos said that corporate social responsibility is important in these areas. The CSR projects of the companies operating these windmills should benefit the people affected by these projects.
Meanwhile, in terms of efficiency, summer months could be a problem for the wind farms. Jimeno (2007) reported that the windmills are not able to produce electricity during the hot months, as the speed of wind ranges from zero to 3.5 m/second.
So, What Now?
Given all these, the argument – if not propaganda – that the windmills of Ilocos actually benefit the people of Ilocos is questionable, if not an outright lie. Until the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative is finally able to buy power directly to these power plants, then that will be the time when we will be able to say that the people of Ilocos Norte are directly benefitting from the enormous windmills.
However, to reject or downplay the other benefits of these wind farms is unjustifiable. People in the locality are offered jobs by the companies maintaining these windmills. Others, meanwhile, in the municipalities of Bangui, Burgos, and Pagudpud are able to sell hand-made souvenirs and other local goods to tourists who are flocking the area. These windmills made Ilocos Norte one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the country.
It cannot be denied that wind energy is a good form of energy production because it is renewable. Given the scarcity of fossil fuels for energy production and consumption, there is indeed a need to produce energy from sources which are not exhaustive in terms of extraction; definitely, wind energy is one of them.
As a developing nation, the Philippines should be able to harness renewable energy sources. When we use non-renewable energy sources, in a way, we are at the mercy of countries who are able to produce energy from these non-renewable sources. This is why hydro-power, natural gas, solar power, and wind energy projects emerge in our country.
Still, the current situation begs the question: So, what now?
In the case of the windmills of Ilocos Norte, the real benefits of wind energy are yet to come.
So what if the windmills are there already? Ilocanos can pride themselves (ourselves – this writer, included) of being the renewable energy capital of the country, yes. But until the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative will be finally able to buy the energy it has to distribute to its member-consumers from Northwind, EDC, and AC Energy, the operators of these windmills, then, the people of Ilocos Norte are still unable to harness the benefits of wind power.
So what if the windmills were able to improve the tourism industry in the province? We have to recognize that because of these large windmills, Ilocos Norte was again has its own place in the nation’s tourism map. These windmills draw a lot of tourists – both within the province and within the country. For Filipinos, these large machines are a beautiful sight to see.
However, the tourism boom is just a side effect of the installation of these windmills. The maximum benefit that the people should see or feel is lower power rates, which is certainly not yet felt by Ilocanos.
So what if there are a lot of people protesting about the transmission lines connecting the windmills to the Luzon grid? While producing energy is of upmost importance for all member-consumers, the safety of the people is also important. Sure, wind energy is not harmful to the environment. But if the facilities related to this environment-friendly wind resource puts people at risk, then, definitely, there is something amiss.
Development always has to be dynamic and holistic. Wind energy is a form of development, such that we are able to harness renewable resources to produce and consume electricity. However, everyone should reap the benefits. For the people of Ilocos Norte, the benefits from these windmills should not just be in the form of tourism boom. More than that, it has to be felt in terms of lower power rates. Based on the existing power contracts INEC has entered into, it seems that Ilocanos would not have a change to get some wind power until 2016, when the power retailer’s contract with San Miguel ends.
Until that happens, the question that comes up in one’s mind is, still: Do you really feel the wind?
ABS-CBN TV-7 Laoag. TV Patrol Ilocos – April 16, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_j-m0vekIaw.
Adriano, L. (2005). BBM: Windmill shields IN from oil-dependent power. The Ilocos Times, September 12-18, 2005.
Adriano, L. (2005). Windmill boosts Bangui tourism industry. The Ilocos Times, August 15-21, 2005.
Adriano, L. (2014). Bangui residents slam ‘intrusive’ transmission lines. The Ilocos Times, Vol. 58, No. 5, November 17-23, 2014, pp. 1-2.
Adriano, L. (2014). Protest mars inauguration of Pagudpud windmill farm. The Ilocos Times, Vol. 58, No. 6, November 24-30, 2015, pp. 1-2.
Dela Cruz, D. (2014). INEC: Power rate hike this March; Rate increase pegged at P0.33/kwh. The Ilocos Times, Vol. 57, No. 26, April 14-20, 2014, p. 12.
Jimeno, J.F. (2007) Harnessing the wind. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism iReport. Retrieved from http://pcij.org/stories/harnessing-the-wind/.
Reyes, E. (2014). Solution to power crisis? Ilocos Norte inaugurates 81-MW wind farm. Retrieved from http://www.interaksyon.com/article/99520/solution-to-power-crisis-ilocos-norte-inaugurates-81-mw-wind-farm.