The Board of Directors of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) has reportedly sought an update on the status of the three mini-hydroelectric power plants of the Sunwest Water & Electric Co. (SUWECO).
According to information received by the Tribune, the FICELCO board headed by President Rodulfo Vargas Sr. has approved a resolution authorizing General Manager Raul V. Zafe to conduct a follow-up on the status of the construction of the Capipian MHPP in San Miguel and Hitoma II in Caramoran.
Pursuant to the original Electricity Supply Agreement between the cooperative and the private power supplier, the Solong MHPP with a capacity of 2.3 megawatts, Hitoma I MHPP (1.5MW) and Hitoma II MHPP (1.575MW were supposed to be completed in 2010 while the Capipian MHPP (2.6MW) was supposed to be turned over in 2013. Only the Solong and Hitoma I plants were delivered in 2010.
Under the so-called 1st Amendment to the ESA, the delivery date of the Capipian MHPP was changed to 2018 while the Hitoma II is supposed to be completed four years from delivery date of Capipian.
A year ago, on Jan. 7, 2019, SUWECO submitted a Notice of Force Majeure with respect to the completion of the Capipian plant and asked for a 120-day extension.
According to a source, SUWECO Business Unit Head Floro Barrameda reportedly informed that while the company has already started procurement for and preliminary work at the Capipian project, it could no longer apply for government permits for the use of the forest land in which the mini-hydroelectric power plant is to be constructed.
Barrameda allegedly blamed the situation on the change in regulation brought about by the enactment of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS) Act in 2018.
However, the SUWECO official stressed the intention of the company to pursue its commitments under the Amended ESA.
Since then, the Board and management both made several follow-ups with regards to the matter but received no concrete updates.
The directors also noted that the Hitoma I MHPP has not been operational since May 2019 due to a damaged forebay, but no reports as to the progress of the repair work have been submitted to the cooperative.
In issuing the authority to GM Zafe, the Board pointed out that these developments are affecting the operations of the cooperative.
It may be recalled that the construction of the Capipian power plant has not progressed in recent years after typhoons damaged a spillway and roads leading to the site.
In its stead, SUWECO installed several diesel generators at the Solong power plant and at FICELCO’s Marinawa plant to supply the power deliverable under the contract.
An official at the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) confirmed that the some of the Capipian plant’s structures are within a thickly forested mountain in barangay Paraiso.
Under Republic Act 11038, or the (NIPAS) Act, renewable energy projects may be allowed within the protected area but should be outside the Strict Protection Zones.
A check of the zoning map included in the CWFR 5-year Management Plan proposed by the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) in September 2009 showed that part of the Capipian area was already covered by a Strict Protection Zone.
With the signing of the E-NIPAS Act, the protected area included in the Catanduanes Natural Park nearly doubled to 48,924.08 hectares where hunting, collecting, possession, killing or disturbing wildlife are prohibited, along with the cutting, gathering timber and other forest products, as well as the construction of structures without clearance from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).