RENEWABLE ENERGY:

Coalition donates hydro plant in bid to save World Heritage Site

A venture by an international coalition of power companies aims to shore up world-famous rice terraces in the northern Philippines and bring a sustainable source of electricity to an area that desperately needs it.

The group dubbed the "e8" -- a play on the Group of 8, or G-8, nations from which they hail -- donated a $1 million hydroelectric facility to Ifugao province that was symbolically turned over to the Philippine government last week.

The initiative, which was spearheaded by the e8's Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), is expected to generate about 1,450 megawatts hour (MWh) of new energy a year for Ifugao province, meet 18 percent of the area's electricity needs and raise $70,000 in annual revenue for an effort to save the rice terraces.

The 4,000 square miles of terraces were added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2001 after years of bad weather and limited maintenance eroded sections of the ricefields' mud and stone walls.

The e8, a nonprofit formed after the U.N. climate meeting in Rio Janeiro in the early 1990s, says it wants to influence the international energy debate. "One of the e8 missions is to promote sustainable development and use of energy through the member companies jointly implementing concrete pilot projects -- in particular in developing countries," said Yoshihiro Hatano, TEPCO's general manager of international exchange and cooperation.

The other e8 companies are: American Electric Power Co. Inc., Duke Energy Corp., Hydro-Québec, Ontario Power Generation, Électricité de France, Italy-based ENEL SpA, Germany-based RWE AG, Russia-based JSC "RusHydro", and Japan's Kansai Electric Power Co. Inc.

TEPCO, which operates more than 100 hydropower stations in Japan, was already familiar with the Philippines terrain and decided to lead the Ifugao project as one of its e8 initiatives because it offered the opportunity to "combine renewable development, regional revitalization and World Heritage preservation," Hatano said.

Though the expected revenue from the Ifugao hydroelectric facility falls far short of the estimated $11.8 million needed to restore and maintain the terraces, TEPCO says the investment is an "important first step" and that it hopes this initiative will bring other donors to the cause.

The terraces are vital to Ifugao's economy, both in tourism revenue and because "heirloom rice" is a valuable export, said Ambassador Preciosa Soliven, secretary general of the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines. It was TEPCO's idea to have the profits from the hydroelectric facility save rice terraces, she said.

E8 chooses its project sites upon the recommendation of its member companies or U.N. organizations, said Johane Meagher, e8's executive director.

The group has completed six renewable energy projects, including a grid-connected solar power system that partially powers Tuvalu's capital city and a wind project in the Galapagos Islands.

For the Philippines hydro project, UNESCO provided guidelines on the conservation of the World Heritage site. Soliven said she hopes restoring the terraces will bring young people back to the community to work on their families' rice terraces. About a third of the terraces are abandoned.

More than 180 local people, trained by TEPCO, worked on the site's new hydroelectric facility, and e8 anticipates that the site will also be maintained by local workers.

"When we develop a project, we do it so the local people can keep it alive," Meagher said. "We will monitor the site for two years to see if they need more training to maintain it."