Tag Archives: Philippines

Birthing Geothermal Power in the Philippines (The NZ Legacy)

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.

Former Energy Minister (seated right) signs the bilateral agreement that would commence the PHL-NZ partnership leading to the country’s enviable position as one of the world’s top geothermal leader

A geothermal production well, circa 1977

A separator station is set up in Leyte

The mission aid talks served as the bridge that linked the NZ expertise with the Filipinos’ desire to learn wet steam technology

This aerial shot presents the newly minted Malitbog geothermal power plant located in Leyte. It was in the Tongonan Valley that geothermal struck big time. At 232.5, Malitbog is the world’s largest geothermal power station under one roof.


The Malitbog power plant is one of the powerhouses of the national electric grid, supplying clean geothermal power to Luzon island where much of the economic activities happen.


The Palinpinon steamfield, circa late 70s. A showcase of engineering ingenuity, this project is well known for its compact size, fitting into one manageable area the main components of a geothermal project — from multi-well pads for production to the fluid collection and recycling system that connects the steam fuel to the power station.


The Palinpinon steamfield today, a veritable source of geothermal power that supplies electricity to the Visayas grid.


The well discharge has become a symbolic image of the Philippines’ geothermal success story


Sagada, Batad, Coron, Pearl Farm and Bais… thus began the journey

Today I write about the beginnings of the traveling sneakers. My passion for exploring nature’s wonders began after college. Budget constraints limited my destinations back then, but that did not prevent my imagination from capturing those moments and storing them in the gigabyte of happy memories. Let the traveling sneakers walk down memory lane…

Zamboanga Sibugay, 2005

The Mountains of Sagada and Banaue

There is a humbling feeling that mountains give you once you’ve hiked their peaks. Up there, the air is so clear its like breathing in pure tranquility. The skies become bluer and the sun’s rays dazzle you with optical images as if the Sun god sprinkled tiny daylights on the verdant forests. And the foliage! Here and there you see trees humongous as urban skyscrapers. The forest floor will always have an endless supply of dried leaves that crackle under your feet. Ah, nothing like the sound of dried leaves crunching crisply under my bare feet. But the best feeling one could experience is that inner calmness as if you are communing with the Creator. There’s really that humbling aura up there that makes you look up and say,”Truly this is majestic!” The clouds seem so near you can almost touch the cottony fibers, yet your feet remains anchored on the mountain ground like the deep roots of the sequoia tree, a reminder that despite our lofty achievements, we remain as earth dwellers, stewards of a time that is really not ours. The hike up there may be  grueling but the weariness dissipates once you reach the zenith and watch in awe the 360-degree view of this masterpiece called creation.

Valencia, Negros Oriental (2004)

Sagada (2008)

Batad-home of the world-famous Banaue Rice Terraces (2008)

Pearl Farm, Bais and Coron: of Kayaks and Sea Creatures

The 360-degree cinerama turns even better as you go sea-borne. The sea breeze playfully ruffles your hair as the pump boat cuts through the aquamarine waters. And the sand! Never has the sea become more illuminated by the stark-white shoreline.

Imagine this: A salty-soft wind blows while the half-orb sun peeks on the horizon splashing splendid hues on the palette of the skies of dawn. The pump boat glides through and you look down the ramp and see orange-striped fishes, wiggling blue fries and glowing corals stretching from end to end. Splash! you dive and bathe in the cool waters while the sea creatures dance in a beautiful soiree around you. Later on you will be paddling the kayak oars and once again feel the soft wind kissing your skin. Then, two dolphins glide beside your vessel and swiftly jump into the air. Like a choreography for a gala show, they would build your excitement culminating in what could be compared to the acrobatic displays of Poseidon’s fantastic water chariot gliders. Dolphins, they’re wonderful creatures. They bring out the child in you. They excite you. They make you laugh.  They thrill you. They remind you of those days when playing was all we do all day, when innocence was such a bliss you could have sworn mammary glands were not erotic (oops, pardon me).

Coron cruising (2006)

Bais sandbar, Negros Oriental (2004)

Gleeful dolphins, Bais (2004)

And the journey goes on…

Put on a smile and revel in the fact that indeed, life has become a beautiful journey. This pair of traveling sneakers has now reached the other side of the world and boy there are stories to tell. In the middle of the journey, it actually found another pair of traveling sneakers and the destinations became more colorful and more wonderful. Today, my wife and I have worn out our traveling sneakers from wearing them to many destinations (and counting more). There is still so much out there to be explored. One thing remains clear to us: We view the world from the top, but we stay grounded. Life gets even better when you see it 360 degrees.

The feet that became traveling sneakers’ co-explorer and partner in life.



New Zealand Returns to Philippines to Develop $8B Geothermal Projects

Energy Development Corporation’s Palinpinon I geothermal steamfield project was one of the Philippines’ earliest development project that benefited from NZ expertise. Today, EDC has become master of wet steam technology catapulting the country into the number 2 spot in worldwide geothermal energy production (photo courtesy of Energy Development Corporation)

This is the 112.5MW geothermal steamfield in Palinpinon today. The project features compact development technology. The power generating plant is located beside the steamfield. Multi-well pads and directional drilling were employed in this project. (Photo courtesy of Energy Development Corporation)

The Philippines targets an additional 1,500-2,000 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity from geothermal projects worth as much as $8 billion, making the country the top geothermal producer in the world in two decades.

New Zealand geothermal industry leaders, in a forum yesterday, said they are ready to share their technologies and expertise to local firms.

“Certainly our target is to be the number one producer. With that additional capacity we are looking at, we hope we can surpass the US in terms of geothermal production,” said Energy Undersecretary Jose Layug Jr.

Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Layug said the Philippines aims to increase its geothermal capacity by 1,500-2,000 MW in 2020-2030.

To date, installed geothermal production capacity in the country is 1,972 MW, the second highest in the world next to the US.

“In terms of potential, there is still that additional capacity that we can tap into,” Layug said.

“It is a matter of making sure that these projects will be developed more cost efficiently because they are smaller in scale and therefore we anticipate the higher cost,” Layug said.

Benchmark investment for geothermal projects is $2 million to $4 million for every MW, said Mike Allen, steering committee chair of industry group Geothermal New Zealand. Hence, an additional 1,500-2,000 MW capacity will require $3-8 billion.

The Philippine government wants to work with New Zealand, which is an expert in geothermal energy.

“We will work with them for the resource assessment with existing geothermal resources,” Layug said.

“New Zealand [firms] have expressed interest in the Philippines. We have come into agreements on how we will encourage private sectors from both sides to come and do this together,” Almendras said.

Almendras added that New Zealand-based companies can apply for a service contract while technology suppliers and experts can work with local firms.

Specifically, firms from New Zealand can assist in training and retrofitting existing geothermal power plants.

Allen said firms in New Zealand can also bring to the Philippines technologies for small scale geothermal power geothermal power production like 10-15 MW.

The companies can also help in locating and assessing resources, hence decreasing project risks, Allen said.

To date, New Zealand has an installed generation capacity of 750 MW from geothermal projects, which is expected to rise to 1,000 MW next year. It has a long-term geothermal potential of 3,000-4,000 MW, Allen said.

By Neil Jerome C. Morales (The Philippine Star)


Related stories:

New Zealand to help PH in geothermal projects

New Zealand and the Philippines find common ground in geothermal

Philippines: The Path to Sustainability


Channel News Asia is featuring the Philippines in a program titled “Philippines: The Path to Sustainability.

As posted on the web blog of AMEA  MArket Intelligence, the program gives an insight to how Philippines is moving towards sustainability in its key growth industries including, tourism, renewable energy and human capital development. More than just the most up-to-date information, it also includes interview soundbites from key stakeholders including: Ramon R. Jimenez, JR. (Secretary – Department of Tourism Philippines), Jesse O. Ang (Resident Representative Philippines, International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group), Reynaldo B. Vea, Ph.D. (President and CEO, Mapua Institute of Technology), Richard B. Tantoco (President & CEO, Energy Development Corporation) and Br. Narciso S. Erguiza, (President and Chancellor of De La Salle University).

Among the success stories that will be featured is that of Energy Development Corporation’s. Energy Development Corporation is the pioneer geothermal energy company that paved the way for renewable energy in the Philippines. Today, the country is set on building its energy capacity from sustainable power like wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. The business model of  Energy Development Corporation in particular is demonstrating that an extractive energy project could actually coexist with nature.


BINHI: Looking at the Green Movement in a New Perspective

Geothermal power shows that energy development can be more biodiversity-friendly. Energy Development Corporation is demonstrating how…

On top of Mt. Apo, the highest point in the Philippines. The vast stretch of land cradles one of the successfule reforestation projects in the country. (Photo by Albert Labrador for EDC)

When the first Spanish fleet arrived on the shores of the Philippines, the entire archipelago was covered in 28.5 million hectares of primary forests or about 95 percent of the entire land area. Had the crew of Ferdinand Magellan, the first circumnavigator of the world, managed to pierce through the army of Lapu-Lapu in 1521, he would still have to penetrate the dense coppice of Homonhon. Thicker forestlands most probably greeted the frigates of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi when they landed on the islands of Cebu and Samar. Indeed, the Spanish empire settled in an unexploited land where the rainforest matched that of Brazil, a colony then of its rival, Portugal.

Maybe Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and the Spanish colonizers did not feel obliged to plant new trees for every hectare of forestland that they cleared. Yet when the Spanish rule ended at the turn of the century, the country still had 21 million hectares of forests. It was only in the post-war years when the country‟s forests started vanishing at an alarming rate. According to the Philippine Forest Management Bureau (FMB), the Philippines has now only 7 million hectares of forest lands left – less than a million in old-growth forests. This is a meager 23% compared to the densely foliaged land discovered by the conquistadores 500 years ago.

So what have we done to reverse this trend? The fight against environmental destruction is now being waged all over the world, thanks to Al Gore and the global warming buzz. Yet this has also spawned the “fight climate change” bandwagon everyone wants to be a part of – from Hollywood actors, business tycoons, and politicians to environmentalist bloggers. Had Magellan lived today, he might have made expeditions in the name of environmental protection and his chronicler, Pigafetta, would have written profusely about it in his blog. But the good thing about all these discordant voices is that they do not only make us see the ugly effects but also help us accept that climate change is a stark reality and that we are largely responsible for it. But really, how do we address the problem?

A Holistic Approach

The word binhi is the Filipino term for seed source. This “seed of thought” has become the eponymic title of a country-wide reforestation program of Energy Development Corporation, the operator of the world’s biggest geothermal wet steam field.

Binhi as a program goes back to the basic tenet of reforestation – nurturing of mother tree species so seedlings can be propagated. It has been observed that fast-growing species like Mahogany and Gemelina have sprouted everywhere as a result of the massive tree-planting program of the government in the 90s. The knee-jerk reaction then was to immediately plant trees to overtake the deforestation rate and fast-growing trees provided the ready solution. Looking back with the gift of hindsight, we now see that we have overlooked a simple fact: the prime endangered endemic trees were left out in the reforestation race.   Among the trees that need conservation, which among them are critically endangered? How many are considered prime (with high economic value) and endemic or can only be found in the Philippines? And that’s how the consensus to proliferate indigenous high-valued tree stocks was arrived at.

Binhi goes beyond than just digging a hole in the ground and sticking seedlings into them. Binhi rethinks the whole idea of reforestation. Yes, the program will still do a lot of tree planting. But what kind of trees would Binhi proliferate and how? What new values would Binhi create for trees? When we see a tree, we see mostly its environmental purposes – carbon sink, forest cover, sanctuary for wildlife and watershed. Yes, those are the natural functions of trees. But in this day and age, maybe it can now be argued that trees should also provide for man’s modern needs? Quite paradoxical isn‟t it? And Binhi is seeking a new and enlightened way of looking at forest protection and preservation. As Patrick Geddes, the great urban planner, said, “By leaves we live and man must find the most appropriate mode of coexistence with trees.”  Therefore, Binhi follows a four-pronged strategy:  Tree for Life (biodiversity bridging research), Tree for Food (alternative livelihood derived from sustained yield schemes), Tree for Leisure (recreational benefits of trees) and Tree for the Future (the flagship module targeting the setting up of urban forests of prime, endangered and indigenous trees).

The Greening Legacy

Aside from being threatened, these species are not prolific seed producers – they do not produce at rates similar to the fertility rate of Filipinos. It takes 20-30 years for them to fully mature, bear flowers and produce seeds. Even if public schools shifted to planting molaves and yakals, there would not be enough seedlings left to bring back their pre-war numbers, at least not in the next five generations or so.

When EDC was scouring for seeds of tindalo (Afzelia rhomboidea), a tree with superior attributes and timber quality similar to that of narra, the national tree, they found it thriving in the most unexpected place – in a public plaza, at the heart of a city. As it turned out, that tindalo tree was the seedling that former Pres. Manuel L. Quezon planted in the 1938 during the chartering of Bacolod City. It is clear that these threatened trees have better chances of surviving when cultivated in public parks than when left in the wild where they will be eventually logged because no one will be there to guard them. One of Binhi’s goals is to make schools and local governments become seed producers of these trees because they can provide all the pampering and protection that they need.

The tindalo tree thriving in a public plaza in Bacolod City

It became very symbolic to have launched Binhi in the Quezon Memorial Park where the tindalo seedlings that came from the progeny of the Quezon tindalo tree in Bacolod were planted in a homecoming fashion. The tindalo seed has become the icon of the Binhi initiative. It possesses the sturdy traits of prime Philippine trees and historical value of its own. The tindalo icon aims to deliver the message that it is important not just to plant any tree but specially those that are most valuable to the Filipinos’ sustainable development and national identity.

We live in a modern age when the lament is that everything has been done before. Binhi is another way of re-thinking the solution to the rapid decline of our environment. Here in the Philippines, Binhi will show that there is a new, innovative and more audacious way of providing a truly Filipino solution to the environmental crisis. Ultimately, Binhi seeks to empower the Filipino people so they may take it upon themselves to regenerate these tree species that would have otherwise been lost to us forever.

Perhaps the true test of Binhi as a program will be the waiting time for these trees to repopulate the land. The tindalos, yakals, molaves and other similar trees that we plant today will fully mature after my generation has passed this earth. We may not see the full re-greening of our streets but the seeds that we plant today and the seed of thought that we teach our kids will lay down the foundation. The birth of a thousand forests starts with one acorn, as they say. Who knows, our forests might return to the way they were when Ferdinand Magellan first set foot on the Philippine shores. Maybe by that time, tindalo and the rest of its sister species will come back lining up the streets named after them.