This week, the Philippine president visits New Zealand and Australia to promote strong economic and cultural ties. The relations of the Philippines and New Zealand runs deeper with the latter bequeathing its technical know-how in geothermal engineering, which became a catalyst in the former’s rise to world geothermal energy leadership.
As early as the 1950s, geothermal was already being studied by the eminent Filipino geothermal scientist Dr. Arturo Alacaraz. It was not brought to bigger scale until the oil crisis the creation of Energy Development Corporation, as the governmental arm in exploring and developing indigenous energy alternatives.
New technology was needed and the country had zero knowledge about developing that potent energy lying beneath dead volcanic systems. The Philippine Government signed a bilateral agreement with New Zealand. New Zealand was the logical choice because it was operating geothermal projects in its own country. The cooperation agreement provided a NZ$15 million technical assistance package that funded the exploration of the Tongonan and Palinpinon fields. A drilling rig was included in the assistance package.
There was another more natural reason for cooperation with New Zealand. While geothermal steam of such geothermal leaders as Italy and USA are vapor-dominated, New Zealand’s and the Philippines’ are both hot water-dominated. This makes New Zealand’s expertise more compatible with local conditions.
Within five months of EDC’s formation, the first deep exploration well had been drilled at Tongonan led by a motley crew of geologists, geochemists, volcanologists and geophysicists, with the addition of some recruits coming from the oil industry. By 1977, the 3-MW pilot plant in Tongonan was put up. Another 6-MW was ran after wells in Okoy 2 and Okoy 5 in Palinpinon were drilled.
Working with the New Zealand’s technical arm, KRTA, had always been impressive and the size and pace of geothermal development programs have been breathtaking. From Tongonan and Palinpinon, this synergy was brought to a higher level with the collaboration on the Unified Leyte project. The 700-MW steamfield was conceptualized, bidded out, constructed and commissioned in a remarkably short time frame of only three years.The Kiwis were impressed about this given the history of the Ohaaki field where the entire facility was commissioned some 20 years after production drilling had been completed.
Below is a collection of rare photos chronicling those formative years. Credits to the Public Relations Department of Energy Development Corporation for sharing these mementos.