SIBUYAN ISLAND, PHILIPPINES, MARCH 18, 2011 — Mt. Guiting-Guiting looks majestic from the distance, a great draw for mountaineers. The cool winds blow gently and the beaches pristine, offering great promise to tourists who love the sun and sand. Power shortages, however, served as a constant reminder of just how huge the challenge was in catalyzing eco-tourism in this predominantly farming and fishing community about 350 kilometers south of Manila.
Not anymore. With the recent installation of the 900 KW hydroelectric power turbines that ensured a stable 24-hour electricity to the island, Sibuyan residents now feel they just had taken one big step towards injecting diversity into their community’s economy.
“Supply of electricity then was unstable and limited, so people couldn’t really do other things besides farming and fishing,” said Joseph Guttierez, 38, entrepreneur and resident of San Fernando, one of the three towns in Sibuyan Island. “Things have changed since we got hydroelectric power. Many people are getting into small businesses like hardware, food stalls, and groceries. We got a few resorts now catering to tourists.”
Installed by the Romblon Electric Cooperative (Romelco), the two 450-KW turbines along Cantingas River provide the base load for the entire Sibuyan Island (population: 56,541) comprising three municipalities namely Magdiwang, Cajidiocan, and San Fernando. The two turbines (with a total combined capacity of 900kW) and its associated civil works cost Php140 million partly financed through a loan from the Rural Power Project (RPP), a World Bank-supported project implemented by the Development Bank of the Philippines.
Romblon Province comprises three major islands, namely Tablas, Romblon, and Sibuyan. Romelco supplies electricity to both Romblon and Sibuyan islands.
The RPP aims to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of rural households in hard-to-reach, isolated, and poorest areas of the country.
The project supports rural electrification by targeting more households; encouraging public-private sector partnerships in generating, transmitting and distributing electricity with emphasis on new and renewable sources of energy; and upgrading electric cooperatives to become financially viable and operationally efficient.
Prior to the installation of the hydroelectric power plant, Sibuyan was powered by diesel-fed plants operated by the state-owned National Power Corporation. Supply however was limited and unstable. Sibuyan residents endured 12-hour blackouts every day often caused by mechanical failure of generating sets and shortage of fuel.
Ms. Denisa Repizo, Vice Mayor of Magdiwang, said that her town immediately benefitted from the new hydroelectric power project. She said that residents now pay Php 6.60 per kilowatt hour as against Php 30.00 per kilowatt-hour they paid for power supply from small diesel-fed generators which are unreliable.
“Reliable power brought a lot of changes,” she said. “People now enjoy nightlife. Even those living in the uplands now have television, thus enabling them to have greater access to information. The handicraft weavers can take more orders from buyers since they can now work even during night time. And most of all, children could study their lessons at night.”
Electricity has yet to reach the 55 Mangyan indigenous families scattered deep in the mountainous and thickly forested parts of the island but their leaders say the project has kindled their dreams for a better life. Domingo Rollon, 47, the tribal chieftain, says six Mangyan children are enjoying educational scholarships from Romelco. “Romelco pays for the children’s educational needs until they finished college,” he said.
He added that the Mangyan community also supplied sand and gravel during the construction of the power plant and is discussing with Romelco how to kickoff socio-economic projects including the planting of fruit trees to help protect and conserve the watershed areas within the Mt. Guiting-Guiting mountain ranges.
Covered with lush vegetation, Mt. Guiting-Guiting stands 2,075 meters above sea level. Nature lovers, trekkers and mountaineers love to climb it, attracted by wild ferns and orchids that dot the craggy trails as well as the clear brooks and streams slicing through the mountain range. Around the island are pristine beaches, some of them blessed with powdery white sands.
Residents are hoping that with a stable supply of electricity, progress will follow through eco-tourism and other activities, thus creating more jobs and helping address poverty. (Four out of ten residents are poor, according to official statistics). Vice Mayor Repizo said that the number of tourists, those types who love nature and the rugged outdoors, is gradually increasing.
“More tourists are coming, knowing that they have several places to stay. Several resorts were built after we got reliable power,” she said.
Mr. Rene Fajilagutan, General Manager of ROMELCO, said that recently, the Board of Directors of the electric cooperative has approved a resolution calling for the installation of an additional 450 KW turbine to augment the plant’s capacity to about 1,350 kW.
“This would ensure that we really have more energy supply. Our target is for Sibuyan Island to get 90 percent of its electricity from a hydro source. We are studying the viability of installing a submarine cable towards the islands of Romblon and Tablas to channel excess power from Sibuyan," said Mr. Fajilagutan. “That way, we will be able to reduce the use of diesel and increase production of renewable energy while ensuring that more households benefit from reliable power.”