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Monday, November 10, 2008

Tapping Renewable Energy: Micro-hydro Power Sparks Hope in the War zone Village in Southern Philippines | Mindanao

Tapping Renewable Energy: Micro-hydro Power Sparks Hope in the War zone Village in Southern Philippines | Mindanao

Buldon, Shariff Kabunsuan—For the past decades, the rushing gray-green waters of the Kumaguingking river has gone untapped. The local people do not have any inclination that the same river could generate electricity for a thousand homes and end the years of darkness that enveloped their villages.

This lack of knowledge was borne from the remote location of the two barangays. Karim and Minabay lie near the boundary south-east of Lanao del Sur where a thick vegetation of virgin forest still exists.

Residents in these two villages have no access to modern technology. Only a few people know that the tropical rain forest of Lanao mountain range maintains a great water discharge of creeks and tributaries of the four lakes, namely, Lake Butig, Lake Pula, Lake Mainit na Tubig, Lake Maitim. Fewer still are aware that such resource can power a turbine and light villages and homes.

This is why so many generations of the local Iranuns in the villages of Karim and Minabay had literally groped in the dark.

The combined circumstances of government’s neglect, years of conflict, and the villages’ ignorance on technologies caused them to rely mostly on kerosene, candles and batteries for their light. Under the government’s Philippine Energy Plan, Karim and Minabay are among the villages scheduled to be energized by 2010. Meantime, the local folks had to content themselves with kerosene lamps for lighting.

Songcarang Dimasindil, 73 years old, and the former village leader from the 60’s until early 1990 said, “My heart bleeds every time I see my 23 children and 28 great-grandchildren feel their way in the dark.”

“Many times, as a barangay leader, I have pounded the offices of local politicians to bring Karim and Minabay with electricity. I was never heard,” Dimasindil added.

But changing times and technologies have a way of resolving things. Such is the case when the Alliance for Mindanao Off-grid Renewable Energy (AMORE) Program came to Barangay Karim two years ago and proposed the construction of a micro-hydro power plant for the two villages. Many were in disbelief when the AMORE representatives explained how the Kumaguingking River can supply enough water to power the turbine of a micro-hydro plant. According to Dimasindil, “we did not realize the enormous potential of that river.”

It took Winrock International, the project’s implementing agency, a couple of years to validate the water flow in the river. Through the financial assistance of the United States Assistance for International Development (USAID) and the Philippines Department of Energy, a hydrological study was conducted to determine the strength and reliability of the Kumaguingking River. By November 2007, after the studies yielded positive results, the construction began. With the funds amounting to Php7.4 million, the 35 kW micro-hydro power plant was completed in 2008.

When the micro-mechanical equipment was finally in place, and up and running, over 107 households are finally seeing the light of compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. The day when the first bulb flickered in Barangay Karim and Minabay, villagers feasted on a roasted goat while loud dance music screamed from a karaoke machine. Dimasindil said, “this is a great day to us. Not only do we have electricity. We rejoice because the men, women and teenage youths alike took care of the project’s labour. Together, they dug and cemented more than a kilometer-long diversion canal from the Kumaguinking upstream.”

The canal directs to a penstock and power house downstream, where the force of water is converted into electricity by a generator.

Dimasindil died ten days after the light came to Barangay Karim and Minabay. He never really imagined how the waters in Kumanguingking could generate electricity. “In his last remaining days, we showed him how the television and radio work, and he was convinced by the power of the small river,” recalled Naga, one of the sons of the elder Dimasindil. “His dreams have finally come true.”

“My dead father dreamt of this. I never imagine this to happen…not in this place,” he said. “I can only thank Allah and those who made this miracle possible. Not only does light make life easier for us, the electricity allows us to use radio and TV to stay connected to news and information about our government and the happenings in the world.”

According to AMORE chief Tetchi Cruz-Capellan, “micro-hydro energy system is an established technology and a realistic way to bring energy to remote mountain villages near mountain streams and rivers. It is easy to install and operate, and is cheap and sustainable. With the renewable energy law in place, more rivers can be tapped to help poor families in remote villages have access to light.”

Mainly designed for lighting only, the micro-hydro power facility will enable each household to avail itself of a maximum of 81,637kWh annually. Today, lavish appliances such as refrigerators, washing machine, colored television sets, computer games and electric ovens abound in the two villages. Residents in both Karim and Minabay can now end their isolation with their river-powered electricity in place.

The US and the Philippine government acknowledge that developing clean energy source is vital for security and environmental reasons and frequently stressed the importance of harnessing the earth’s sustainable natural resources in dealing with electricity problem and the global climate change.

Global warming is an escalating threat and its effects will worsen if damaging carbon emissions are not curbed. And, with oil hovering around $100 a barrel, there is even greater force for oil-dependent countries such as the Philippines to go green.

Energy undersecretary Zamzamin Ampatuan said that the passing of the Renewable Energy Act in the bicameral committee, the Philippines can save over US$3 billion (Php200 billion) that would come from the country’s renewable energy sources such as solar, ocean, wind, biomass and run-of-river hydropower to power off-grid areas in the country. “This landmark legislation which aims to reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil will relieve Filipinos from price fluctuations in the global market. There’s a big savings in this kind of endeavor. We can save the cost of diesel and coal we import from other countries.”

Principally authored by Senators Edgardo Angara and Juan Miguel Zubiri in the Senate, and Representatives Juan Miguel Arroyo and Luis Villafuerte, the bill supports the development of renewable energy sources. The bill seeks to encourage local entrepreneurs to go into the development of the country’s vast alternative energy resources through a package of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, and help decrease dependence on imported fuel.

“We have so many resources. It’s significant because it’s direct from the community. Micro hydro is very viable in Mindanao. This is a pilot project and we are partnering with agencies to put up new program,” Ampatuan said.

The renewable energy bill, if signed into law by President Arroyo, will give renewable energy users and developers tax-free privileges on the importation of equipment and even a seven-year income tax holiday. Photo courtesy of Rosa May Maitem / AMORE.

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