News coming out of the Philippines is that yet another group of companies is trying to be the first to build a working liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal in the Philippines. On Wednesday, Philippine power company First Gen Corp. and Tokyo Gas said they had signed a preliminary agreement to jointly develop a LNG import terminal project in the Philippines.
First Gen Corp. said that Tokyo Gas will take a 20-percent interest in the project, which will be located in Bangles province, south of the Philippine capital, Manila. No further financial details were disclosed. The Manila-based company operates four of the country’s five gas-fired power plants, with total capacity of about 2,000 MW, all of them in Batangas province.
The disclosure comes as the Philippines faces an impending natural gas shortage. Estimates vary, but most experts claim that gas at the country’s offshore Malampaya gas field will be depleted by 2022 or 2023. Malampaya supplies three gas-fired power plants, providing 40 to 45 percent of power generation requirements for Luzon, the country’s main island, which includes Manila with a population of around 20 million.
The possible building of the Philippines’ first LNG terminal also comes less than two weeks after Manila singed a controversial MoU with Beijing on joint oil and gas development in overlapping claims in the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea.
The MoU signing is part of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s push to forge closer ties with China despite the warnings of many in and outside of the country that relying on Beijing may come at both a heavy political cost domestically as well as possible problems once a new administration takes over in Manila in just under four years after Duterte’s one time, six-year term expires.
Other attempts have fallen short
This is not the Philippines’ first attempt at building an LNG receiving terminal. In fact, numerous other LNG proposals have been discussed but have never materialized. Moreover, talks for energy projects in the country often fall apart amid regulatory and financing hurdles, as well as companies trying to appease not only officials in Manila but provincial officials who often scare away international business with their under-the-table demands and rampant corruption.
However, in 2015 it appeared that this stalemate would be broken when reports out of Manila claimed that the country’s first LNG terminal was nearing completion. Australian Stock Exchange listed Energy World Corp (EWC) was reportedly finishing an LNG import hub and LNG-fired combined-cycle gas turbine power station, with a capacity of 650 MW, in Quezon province, just south of Manila, to provide electricity to be sold through the wholesale electricity spot market to the Luzon grid.
The EWC plant was to receive LNG from EWC natural gas fields, including those in Indonesia, but would also have to procure supply on the spot market. However, in the ensuing three years EWC’s terminal has never been completed and has largely fallen off the radar of Philippine DOE officials and media in Manila.
State-owned Philippine National Oil Co (PNOC) has also sought to bring together companies to build an LNG terminal in Batangas, but at least twice those attempts have fallen through, while planned meetings with potential investors were postponed. In August, First Gen Corp said that PNOC had rejected its unsolicited proposal to be part of its LNG terminal project in Batangas.
According to a Reuters report, Philippine Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said three different groups have been short listed recently to build the country’s first LNG terminal. However, at the end of the day, it remains to be seen if even savvy international investor and Japan’s largest natural gas utility Tokyo Gas can overcome previous hurdles that have driven away other contenders, including both smaller players and larger oil majors.