By Chuck Baclagon

Atimonan, Quezon, has been for years at the center of the debate, opposing fossil fuel development and implementing small-scale renewable energy as a solution for the country’s energy future.

A frontline community already dealing with the impacts of climate change, Atimonan is also confronting the power of the fossil-fuel industry and its plans to develop a huge coal power plant in the vulnerable coastal area.

The proponent of the plant, Meralco PowerGen, converted an earlier plan to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) combined cycle power plant into a traditional coal plant. The local government was quick to approve the project believing that it would generate jobs for local construction workers, aside from a tax windfall expected from the plant’s operations.

The proposed 1,200-megawatt coal power project will be the fifth such plant in the province, sitting on the Philippines’ eastern seaboard, an area deemed four times more vulnerable to sea-level rise than the average of similar areas globally. The project is widely regarded as a glaring example of the country’s needless and dangerous dependence on coal. One of the main concerns of those opposing that plant is that the project will lock the town into up to 40 years of coal dependence.

Local opposition to the construction of the plant is led by the Our Lady of the Angels parish, who have for the past few years been organizing the community, joining the national campaign for energy transition and implementing community-based renewable energy solutions.

Over the past 3 years, the church has organized the community through educational campaigns targeting different segments of the town’s population, all with the intent of getting them to participate to public mobilizations. As a result of this grassroot work, thousands hit the streets to voice their opposition to the project.

A recent economic study concluded that the proposed coal plant in Atimonan is a risky proposition at best, since investors have already caught on to the fact that coal is no longer the least-cost option for baseload demand, even before externalities such as public health impacts and environmental damage are factored in.

While trying to block the construction of this giant coal power plant, the community has been eager to implement solutions to energy needs that offer an alternative path to energy independence for the region. The Our Lady of the Angels parish installed 12 kilowatt of rooftop solar panels to power their church, convent and the park outside the parish. A way of lighting hope for a community that has also been subjected to intentional rotating blackouts done to reinforce the need to build the coal plant.

Recently Atimonan has been selected for the scoping of a renewable energy company’s plan to put up a micro-grid solar farm that would not only rival the plant but would enable to community to pay lower electricity, since the proposed solar project would provide power directly to them.

The struggle to act on climate change is one that requires both urgency and ambition not only in terms of reducing emissions, but also of providing a development program that enables communities to thrive amidst the warming climate.