GROWING  CRITIQUE  OF  THE  ELECTRIC  JEEPNEY

BACOLOD CITY, JULY 18, 2007
(STAR) THE SOUTHERN BEAT By Rolly Espina - The electric jeepney initially took Bacolod by storm. But perhaps, it simply stemmed from the fact that no less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo launched it and rode on the vehicle Friday last week.

But after the initial flurry of paeans and applause, the departure of the President gradually gave way to questions about the electric jeepney.

The most telling critique came from Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s vice president Frank Carbon and executive secretary Jose Maria Zayco.

“E-jeeps are made in China, but surprisingly they have never been used in China. But the e-jeep won’t last even on the lengths of China’s streets,” Zayco noted.

He added that businessmen always ask for loans and returns on investment. “We are not assured of both when it comes to e-jeeps. It needs more research and studies,” Zayco observed.

But Carbon said the e-jeeps’ use could be narrowed down to hopping from one mall to another or from one hotel to the other.

But the more practical questions came from the drivers themselves, as especially articulated by Jesse Ortega, secretary-general of the United Drivers’ Organization of Bacolod (UNDOC).

Ortega pointed out that the e-jeep couldn’t be used for long-distance travel. Its electric fuel lasts only for six to seven hours and it will take more than an hour to recharge the batteries, he pointed out.

Then, there’s the question of the passenger load. Ortega pointed out that the heavier the load, the more electricity the jeep will need or consume.

Worse, as stressed by Ortega, the e-jeep cannot ascend sloping roads as in the case of Luzurriaga from SM City in the Bacolod reclamation area. And then, it also cannot travel on rough roads.

In short, it can be used only on smooth city streets, he added.

Several other drivers I interviewed also told me that the cost of the e-jeep is prohibitive at P500,000.

“How much will be the boundary fees the owner will charge us? That will reduce our income to the level of non-earnings daily,” commented one.

In short, commented one, that erases the chance of a system where drivers are given an option to own the units later after they had paid their rentals daily for say, two or three years.

That also reminded me of the current controversy over the use of LPG in cabs. Many cab drivers hailed the LPG as enabling them to save as much as one-half of their gasoline expenses. But they argued that it smells and is hot. Besides, they added, cab operators also hiked their daily fees. “They wanted to recover their conversion investment by sharing with us the savings from fuel. That amounts to virtually almost the same rates as before,” an LPG-fed cab driver pointed out.

More than a hundred taxis in the Bacolod area have shifted to LPG. But the drivers themselves pointed out that only cab owners or operators who also own fueling stations have taken up LPG.

Oh, well, anything new always carries with it a lot of problems. And not everything that sounds beautiful at first glance can actually withstand meticulous perusal.

And that seems to be the problem with the glorification of the e-jeep. It must, as pointed out by GRIPP itself, be subjected to intensive experimentation. But the more important thing is that the critiques by the end-users must be taken at face value. They know better than most of us who end up only as passengers.

Bio-energy outlook for beet and sugarcane

It is already a given: the world recently witnessed the emergence of biofuels as a major contribution to world energy security. And it is already a fact that ethanol is one of the products of beet and cane producers.

And that was one of the main topics taken up during the 9th World Beet and Cane Growers Association in Brisbane, Australia last July 9-11. The Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations Inc. (Confed) was formally accepted as a member of the association, according to Luis Tongoy, the Confed nominee to the meet.

So, what were the impressions of Tongoy from the meet?

One point that caught my attention was the challenge beet and cane growers raised “to make sure that they are able to share in the development of bio-energies, along with the bio-energy companies,” Tongoy reported.

“With biofuels and co-generation of electricity or biogas, the cane and beet producers also see major opportunities to help achieve the Kyoto Protocol as well as to decrease the oil dependency of many nations,” he said.

But they also pointed out the need for public support for the major investments required, the difficulties in dealing with international oil conglomerates and their significant role in decreasing the impact of global warming.

The conference also pledged to support more research programs to make biofuels, biogas production, and co-generation even more efficient.

The conference also acknowledged the need for appropriate controls to ensure that bio-energy production is respectful toward biodiversity.

Tongoy, however, noted the use by Australian sugar farmers of the laser leveling machine, which enables them, with the help of global positioning equipment, to level fields to barely two-inch difference.

“You know, I saw how they combined the two. The laser leveling equipment was carried by a leveling machine trailing a tractor. The geosphere feeds it a picture of the contour of an area and it is the laser that governs the grader,” he said.

That does away with the problem of irrigation ditches and even makes sure that water is gradually dispersed to the outlet and assures watering of an entire field.

So, that makes their fields (sugar farms) almost level all throughout with no hills or irrigation canals, Tongoy added.

Not only that. I learned later that the returns on investment almost equaled the cost of laser-leveling, although there is the longer-range returns post the first harvest, Tongoy noted. He also added that the Australians use the two-year varieties of sugarcane.

But the more important message from Lindsay Jolly of the International Sugar Organization (ISO) was the observation that while ethanol has Brazil as its principal exporter, there is yet no world market for ethanol.

In short, it is just an infant industry that needs to be nurtured and its problems ironed out before it can attain a certain level of stability.

For the moment, Brazil is exporting ethanol because it wants to dispose of its excess sugar production, Jolly reportedly pointed out.

The guiding principle of biofuel producers or beet and sugarcane growers is to “produce it and use it.”

Well, sometimes, as I have noted, something new is not always the most desirable or the solution to a problem. It has to be studied more to make it truly effective and efficient. And the important point to consider — when we start producing ethanol, just be sure that the cost of production will make it a reasonable alternative. And, yes, that 40 centavos’ cost of production mentioned by Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas Lito Coscolluela as the selling price per liter actually means that the eventual cost would only reach P28.

The reason: it is VAT zero-rated, then the excise tax and without the transport cost. Ultimately ethanol will sell at par with gasoline, was the rejoinder from a Confed official.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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