Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Village Lights Up with Clean Energy

A secluded village in Northern Palawan Island is off-grid, that is, it is too remote to be served by the Palawan Electric Company (PALECO). 018 But Barangay Bagong Bayan in Roxas, Palawan has within its jurisdiction, over 825 hectares of rainforest –- its watershed. The abundant water from this feeds the beautiful Alibanua Falls, which has always been a source of pride for the villagers.

An attempt was made to harness the water for micro-hydro power, but specifications were faulty and the equipment brought there never worked.

My work as Seacology’s Field Representative for the Philippines  brought them to our attention. In exchange for preserving and protecting their watershed in perpetuity, Seacology agreed to finance the rehabilitation of the micro-hydro power generator. SIBAT, one of our NG030O partners, undertook the rehabilitation.

Early May 2009, I was told that the rehabilitation has been completed. So on May 29, 2009, Jove Benosa of SIBAT and I traveled to the site to see for ourselves the micro hydro power at work.

Our 8 am flight was delayed for 4 and half hours, and that in itself is a subject for another blog if I get the impetus for it. Suffice to say that we eventually touched down in Puerto Princesa at 1:30 pm. It’s the longest one hour flight I’ve ever taken.

The driver of the rented pick-up was waiting for us. Waiting for longer than anyone should, as we were supposed to have arrived 9 am. I should have brought a medal with me to pin on him.034

It was a 2 hour drive to Roxas town proper, and another 2 hours to Barangay Bagong Bayan. By the time we got there, it was nearly 5:30 pm. But all the inconveniences we have encountered thus far was dispelled by the happy faces that met us. So infectious was their disposition that I think we never quite stopped grinning the whole time we were there.

The first question I was asked was Nasaan si Ma’m Karen? (Where is Ma’m Karen?). They were referring to Seacology’s Senior Program Officer Karen Peterson who was with us when we came to visit last June 2008. A little disappointment was evident when I told them she couldn’t come this time, but not enough to dampen their spirits. After all, they’ve got electricity now!

Some village leaders hopped on our vehicle and rode with us a kilometer or so further until the road ended. We stopped a few hundred meters from the power station and had to trek the rest of the way, through muddy walkways, a shaky two-plank foot bridge, a river, and a steep path. We were shown how the micro-hydro station worked, as well as Alibanua Falls where plenty of water still flowed despite some  being diverted to the micro-hydro power generator.

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Back at the Barangay Hall, the grateful villagers served young coconut, crab steamed in coconut milk, and red rice. After the meal, I walked around the village and saw several youngsters playing basketball even at dusk. That, to me, spelled the opening of new opportunities for the village.