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ACEN ramps up its sustainability roadmap with strengthened community initiatives

Published Nov 24, 2023 4:55 am

ACEN, the publicly listed energy company of the Ayala Group, remains steadfast in its commitment to sustainability, bolstered by more robust environmental and social initiatives that foster shared value with the community alongside its energy transition endeavors.

The company has so far invested about P123 million for its host communities in the Asia Pacific, where it currently operates its wind and solar projects. Much of its flagship sustainability programs are implemented in its core market, the Philippines, which accounts for 40% of its generation portfolio. These environmental and social programs have created approximately 19,500 jobs from the estimated 500 community development activities it has developed.

These efforts are a testament to the Ayala Group’s core principle of contributing to the welfare of the environment and communities in which it conducts business.

Conservation Estate: Where sustainability and biodiversity intertwine

Among ACEN’s notable sustainability initiatives is the expansive 700-hectare Conservation Estate. Located within the 81 MW North Luzon Renewables (NLR) wind farm in Ilocos Norte, this program was established in 2014 as a beacon of sustainability, embodying an integrated approach to reforestation, agroforestry, and biodiversity conservation.

To spur economic growth in Ilocos Norte, ACEN has actively engaged over 500 residents from Pagudpud and Caparispisan, empowering them as forest rangers and farmers. These individuals play a crucial role in implementing the company's reforestation program by mobilizing tree-planting activities and seedling production efforts. The company also introduced a tree nursery, engaging with close to 200 seedling producers annually.

Through these activities, ACEN has successfully cultivated and nurtured over 706,000 seedlings, facilitating the planting of more than 500,000 endemic and fruit-bearing trees across 356 hectares of previously unproductive land within the Conservation Estate from 2014 to 2022. As a result, the area now flourishes as forest patches, harmoniously coexisting with the majestic backdrop of wind turbines.

Within the Conservation Estate, a 4.5-hectare model farm also serves as a vital component of a 10-year agroforestry plan meticulously crafted by experts from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños College of Forestry and Natural Resources in 2017.

The primary objective of this plan is to provide the local community with sustainable livelihood opportunities, self-reliance, and food security. Fruit-bearing and forest tree seedlings are propagated within the model farm, nurturing a diverse ecosystem while attracting biodiversity.

Approximately 300 farmers have benefited from capacity-building activities focused on agroforestry development. These activities are led by in-house foresters and forestry experts, equipping farmers with the necessary knowledge and skills to thrive in agroforestry practices.

Through the implementation of the comprehensive agroforestry plan and capacity-building initiatives, the Conservation Estate contributes to the resilience and well-being of local farmers, fostering a sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystem.

The Conservation Estate stands as a testament to ACEN's unwavering commitment to sustainable practices and ecological stewardship. Through the active involvement of local communities and the restoration of vital ecosystems, ACEN continues to set an inspiring example for responsible environmental management.

Protecting biodiversity

ACEN also acknowledges the significance of conserving biodiversity in the communities where it operates. In line with its commitment to biodiversity preservation, ACEN has forged partnerships with various organizations and groups to ensure the thriving of biodiversity within its communities.

ACEN’s Pawikan Conservation Program led by its pioneering wind farms in Ilocos Norte, NorthWind and North Luzon Renewables (NLR), has been creating awareness in the community on the protection of sea turtles along the province’s coastlines.

In the Philippines, within its landmark wind projects in Ilocos Norte, the forest patches have become a haven for 146 animal species, including 121 bird species. Among its significant biodiversity efforts is the Sea Turtle (Pawikan) Conservation Program led by its pioneering wind farms in the province, NorthWind and North Luzon Renewables (NLR).

Through this program, ACEN’s host communities along the coastlines of Bangui and Pagudpud have become sanctuaries for endangered sea turtles. Since 2013, ACEN has released to the ocean a total of 1,923 sea turtle hatchlings from 2,672 eggs it monitored and protected, with a hatching rate of over 73%. It has also rescued a total of 41 adult sea turtles that accidentally got entangled in fishermen’s nets.

Its strengthened sea turtle conservation plan is a collaboration with various stakeholders, including the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines (MWWP), the local government units (LGUs) of Bangui and Pagudpud, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

ACEN Australia is also actively involved in Eagle Conservation, supporting crucial research and conservation activities aimed at protecting Tasmania's unique eagles, including the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle.

In Indonesia, ACEN's Salak and Darajat Geothermal’s Eye on the Forest program targets to increase the population of endangered species in Indonesia like the Javan gibbon.

Agrivoltaics: Harnessing renewable energy while ensuring food security

ACEN, through its innovative agrivoltaics-based initiative called “Solar Gulayan,” has achieved remarkable success in integrating agriculture into its renewable energy projects. Since the pilot farming system began early last year, five of ACEN's solar farms nationwide have already yielded over 3,800 kilos of various crops as of November 2023.

Through its Solar Gulayan agrivoltaics program, ACEN helps address the dual need to transition to clean energy while increasing food supply.

Agrivoltaics is the method of optimizing available land within a solar plant for agriculture and food production. Beyond its positive impact on solar farm efficiency, crop output, and plant health, the Solar Gulayan program addresses a crucial aspect of community development—economic empowerment.

By partnering with local farming organizations in the host communities, ACEN strengthens the food supply chain and stimulates the local economy. Notably, Alaminos Laguna Consumers Cooperative (ALACCO) and Zambales Millennial Farmers and Producers Association have been identified as key partners for Alaminos Solar and Palauig Solar, respectively.

Within ACEN’s 120 MW Alaminos Solar in Laguna, agriculture thrives beneath the solar panels, effectively merging renewable energy production with bolstered food security for the community.

Through these partnerships, ACEN's Solar Gulayan program prioritizes the communities as vital stakeholders. With ambitions to expand and replicate this project in future solar endeavors throughout the Philippines, ACEN aims to champion sustainable development and foster shared prosperity in the communities where it operates.

Managing plastic waste through a circular economy

To reduce ACEN’s environmental impact in its construction sites and host communities, ACEN has begun integrating a circular approach in its renewable energy developments. With a strong focus on sustainability, ACEN's Development team has reimagined its approach to plant waste management, ensuring the proper collection of plastic waste both within and outside of ACEN’s facilities.

ACEN also ensures that it shares the same vision of sustainability with its partners, incorporating adherence to the circularity framework as part of the contract requirements, thus creating bigger ripples of sustainability.

To date, close to 42,000 kg of plastic waste has been collected from ACEN's Alaminos and San Marcelino solar plants in Laguna and Zambales, respectively. These have been converted into approximately 309,000 eco-products, equivalent to the weight of 33 compact-sized cars.

Construction is underway for ACEN’s Alaminos Community Eco Hub located within its Alaminos Solar farm in Laguna. (In photo from left to right): Mike Zotomayor, former lead for Luzon plant operations; Lord Lee Van Burgos, lead for Philippine plant operations; Irene Maranan, VP & head for corporate communications and sustainability; Glenn Flores, Alaminos mayor; Miguel de Jesus, chief operating officer for Philippine operations; Rommel Benig, Green Antz president & CEO

Approximately 60,500 of these eco-products have been integrated into the construction of substation perimeter walls and control buildings inside ACEN’s solar and wind projects in Zambales and Ilocos Norte, including the newly inaugurated 160 MW Pagudpud Wind. These efforts have not only promoted sustainability but also led to estimated cost savings of 10 to 20% on construction expenses.

Just recently, ACEN started construction of the Alaminos Community Eco Hub within its Alaminos Solar Farm in Laguna. This is ACEN’s second project with social enterprise Green Antz Builders, with the support of the LGU of Alaminos, Laguna, which will serve as a recycling facility to convert the community’s plastic waste into eco-bricks as part of its strengthened circularity framework.

Furthermore, the eco hub also aims to create green jobs for the community. Particularly, ACEN has tapped the Pangkat Ugnayan ng Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Alaminos (PUNLA), a community-based people’s organization composed of local farmers from Alaminos, to operate and manage the eco hub in its second year. During the first year of operations, the facility will be operated and managed by Green Antz Builders, its long-time partner in sustainability.

ACEN’s first partnership with Green Antz Builders was the Ilocos Norte Community Eco Hub located in the town of Piddig. Collaborating with the provincial government of Ilocos Norte, the Ilocos Norte Community Eco Hub now serves as a community plastic waste recycling facility, with plastic waste sourced through various collection points across the community such as sari-sari stores, schools, markets, convenience stores, and resorts, offering a P19 incentive per kilo. 

Going beyond energy

Irene Maranan, vice president and head of ACEN’s corporate communications and sustainability, said: “As we drive the energy transition forward, we ensure that sustainability is embedded in our operations and is at the heart of what we do. We start by investing in the environment and improving the quality of life of our host communities.”

“These programs, each customized to cater to the needs of our host communities, wouldn’t be possible without the support and cooperation of our different stakeholders, including local governments and various environmental and social groups,” she added.

With a bold ambition to reach 20 GW by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050, ACEN is reimagining the energy landscape in the region by taking its sustainability roadmap a step further, ensuring that a clean energy future extends beyond mere transition.

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Editor’s Note: This article was provided by ACEN.