Alternate Energy Philippines: MicroHydro Power
While there is talk of a coming energy crisis in some areas of the Philippines, including Mindanao and the Visayas, in the remote communities in the Cordilleras, microhydroelectricity is being put to use.
Microhydro power plants (those with 7.5 to 35 kW capacity) don't need big, controversial dams to operate.
In fact, a small spring in Barangay Buneg, Conner town, Apayao province and in Barangay Lon-oy, San Gabriel town, La Union province - has enough power to run a generator for household electricity.
Hardly accessible, Buneg and Lon-oy are among 10,000 villages not covered by the National Power Corp. (Napocor) grid. Under the Philippine Energy Plan, Buneg and Lon-oy are among the villages due to be electrified 2010. But this is only on paper.
Remote communities and non-government and Church organizations advocating micro-hydro power say they cannot wait for the government to bring electricity to them.
So, on their own, representatives of the 300 Mabaka people of Buneg got in touch with the Catholic Church and the Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya, or Sibat, a Metro Manila-based non-government organization helping install environment-friendly and community-run alternative energy facilities.
From 1996 to 2002, the Mabaka folk had provided labor and Sibat, through its engineer, the project supervision. Sibat also sourced funds from the United Nations Development Programme.
Inaugurated in January 2003, the Buneg 7.5-kW micro-hydro power plant has since been providing electricity to 36 families.
Under bright fluorescent lamps, children can now study their lessons and read books while Rosalina Dangli, the community's lone public teacher, can prepare her lesson plans.
Before he calls it a day, Mabaka elder Andanan Agagen weaves rattan baskets at night, which he sells to lowland folk in Conner town.
Courtesy of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines and the community, a 15-kW micro-hydro power facility in Lon-oy has not only lit up the 130 houses of 1,000 upland farming folk. The facility has also enabled many families to make brooms for sale, even at night.
And now that the electricity is flowing, the women have embarked on money-earning ventures such as processing ginger into salabat or ginger tea powder.
Other privately initiated micro-hydro power plants are starting a quiet industrial revolution in areas inaccessible to national power company.
A 5-kW micro-hydro power project built in 1993 in the sub-village of Ngibat in Tinglayan town, Kalinga province, powers a blacksmith shop, which manufactures simple farm tools such as trowels, hoes, bolos and machetes for the 30 families in the community. It also operates a community rice mill and a vulcanizing shop.
A 30-kW micro-hydro power facility in Tulgao village, also in Tinglayan, built in 1999 also with the help of Sibat, now runs a rice mill and a sugarcane presser, which is twice faster than the carabao-drawn dapilan (wooden presser).
The Cordillera's various springs and tributaries offer great potential for small water-powered electricity generators.
Philippine Daily Inquiry special reports on the country's "preventable crisis"