By Epi Fabonan III
It's 2013 and yet Banton still doesn't have round-the-clock electricity service. While other municipalities in other provinces have made huge strides in power generation, Banton is still in the "Dark Ages". We still have to switch off our televisions at 11 p.m. and we still don't get to watch "Eat Bulaga" each noon. During summertime, we still swelter in the tropical heat fanning ourselves with our raffia palm abanicos.
But don't get me wrong; I'm not bashing the electrification achievements made by the Banton Electric Cooperative in these past years. I think it is commendable how the cooperative was able to complete its goal of ensuring that electricity service gets to every far flung area of the island by erecting new poles and cables. Nevertheless, if we really want investment and progress to continue and expand in our beloved island, we need energy that's round-the-clock and sustainable. Let's be realistic: Banton Electric Cooperative's diesel power plant isn't exactly green energy and is quite costly to maintain. What we need is a better alternative.
And the alternatives are endless; I chanced upon an article by Pat Fetizanan in Sanrokan.com back in 2002 (which is 10 years ago!) about the different energy mixes possible for Banton. It's puzzling how the article is so promising yet nobody even had the initiative to put any of Mr. Fetizanan's suggestions into action (Maybe no one from the Banton Electric Cooperative or the local government read the article).
Let's review some of the exciting possibilities, Mr. Fetizanan enumerated:
Wait, don't we have solar panels still existing atop the Banton Municipal Hall? Whatever happened to them? The technology could have made life-changing impact to its residents if pursued vigorously by the local government. After all, while the capital cost is quite steep, the operating costs and return of investment could be greater (considering 2002 prices). Coupled with energy saving construction (think of Ilac Diaz's solar light bulb and sun roofs!) and cheaper solar power units from China and Japan, solar power could be an affordable and sustainable power source for the island.
With some areas of Banton incredibly windy especially in the summer, wind energy just seemed a viable option. Given the island's openness to foreign investment just as Ilocos Norte did, Banton could host the Philippines' second wind farm. It can be built on the island's hillsides or out in open sea.
Since Bantoanons rely much on copra and animal raising for livelihood, isn't it great if we could convert its by-product into potential sources of energy? With an ample supply of coconut shells or pig manure, copra farms and piggeries can power their own light bulbs.
This isn't in the suggestions outlined by Mr. Fetizanan but I figured this is promising too given the island's raging waters especially during the habagat season. An underwater turbine installed in strategic places can generate enough electricity to power a barrio as long as the waves are rolling.
WHAT IT TAKES?
For these possibilities to turn into realities, there are a lot at stake, from top to bottom. On the grassroots level, it needs the cooperation of the locals who need to be educated on how these alternatives can benefit them. If biomass will be the option taken, each household will have to properly dispose all of their organic waste into a common disposal area where the energy shall be harnessed.
Bantoanon elites and intellectuals will definitely have a role to play as the infrastructure for these energy sources can be constructed through a public-private partnership scheme. A foundation or trust fund set up by Bantoanons here and abroad can gather the necessary financing for the project which will be implemented by the local government with the help of Bantoanon engineers and other individuals who can provide skills and know-how.
Most importantly, it will require a tremendous amount of political will on the part of the local and provincial governments. Given these ideas, if the government will seriously take the initiative of starting this project up to completion, then in no time at all Banton will have enough energy that could pave the way for new market opportunities, new sources of income for the locales, and a better life for each and every Bantoanon.
Indeed, with every sector of Bantoanon society working hand-in-hand, the possibilities are endless.
Fetizanan, Pat F. "In Search of Alternative Energy Sources for Romblon". Sanrokan.com July 22, 2002.