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Philippines to build 20 more dams for power generation

The Philippines plans to build 20 more dams, in a mega infrastructure investment drive aimed to scale up power generation and boost irrigation in the face of El Niño.

This clean energy now stands as a pivotal renewable power source within the Philippines, which already has a diverse array of hydroelectric plants – 29 as of last count – including both conventional dam structures and run-of-the-river systems.

Among the nation’s hydroelectric facilities, 14 operate as conventional dams, while 15 adopt the run-of-the-river technique. It also boasts Southeast Asia’s first pumped hydroelectric plant, which first came online in 1983.

Energy consumption

As the country contemplates its energy future, renewed attention is being directed towards hydropower, now being harnessed even in the desert. The Philippines, blessed with abundant natural water resources, is largely a fossil fuel-consuming country. Coal has the highest contribution to the power generation mix at 58 per cent in 2021, according to the Department of Energy. That is about to change.

Top renewable projects Philippines
Image Credit: Department of Energy, Manila

This re-evaluation aligns with the Department of Energy’s ambitious goal of achieving universal household electrification, amid the climate challenge posed by El Niño/La Niña, an irregularly occurring and complex series of climatic changes affecting the equatorial Pacific region, including the Philippines.

91.1 %

percentage of 25.3 million Philippine households served by electricity, out of 27.727 million based on the 2020 Census

Unique solution

Amidst this energy landscape, the Kalayaan Pumped-Storage Hydroelectric Project emerges as a notable example.

Commissioned on February 23, 1983, with an initial output of 324.3 MW from two turbines, this project by the state-owned the National Power Corporation (NPC), is slated for a significant expansion.


As of June 2023, the household electrification level is 91.1% with 25.3 million households served versus the estimated potential households of 27.727 million based on the 2020 Census.

The forecasts indicate a substantial surge in residential electricity demand, poised to more than double from its 2015 level of 2.0 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE) to 4.1 MTOE by 2030, representing the fastest growth among household fuels at 6.1 percent annually.

The upgrade, reportedly now navigating the permitting stage, aims to boost the project’s capacity from the current 336 MW (achieved following a subsequent upgrade of Kalayaan Turbine 1) to an impressive 796 MW.

The hydro power system features two penstocks with a diameter of 6 metres each. Penstock-I is situated within an excavated trapezoidal trench, with a bottom width of 32.7 metres. Starting with a diameter of 6 metres, it tapers down to 5.5 metres. The penstock is anchored by six concrete blocks at slope changes and supported by saddles.Image Credit: CBK Power

Pumped-storage hydroelectricity, or pumped hydroelectric energy storage, is a type of hydroelectric energy storage used by electric power systems for load balancing.

The method stores energy in the form of gravitational potential energy of water, pumped from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation.

The Kalayaan power plant is an engineering marvel that involves an intake structure situated at the end of the forebay area (from Caliraya Quezon, above), with its crest situated at an elevation of 294 metres above sea level. Below is the power plant, by the Laguna Bay, near Manila.

Comprising two turbines, Kalayaan I, originally designed for 150 MW, underwent subsequent upgrades to reach 168 MW, while Kalayaan II was constructed with a capacity of 174.3 MW, totaling 332.3 MW using Francis turbines.

Functioning as a linchpin of power generation in the Philippines, the Kalayaan Complex serves as a vital peaking facility for the Luzon Grid.

Its operational cycle cleverly utilises daytime electricity generation to meet high demand, while nocturnal hours witness the storage of energy through the pumping of water from Laguna Lake (which straddles the provinces of Laguna, Rizal and Metro Manila) to Caliraya (in Quezon Province).

A reported upgrade will introduce two 336-MW power generators, further amplifying the project’s contribution to the country’s power generation capacity.

Top hydroelectric power plants in the Philippines
Image Credit: DOE
Cutting bureaucratic procedures

In July, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. pledged to streamline bureaucratic procedures within the energy sector to attract investors, urging the private sector to collaborate with the government in delivering affordable, reliable, and environmentally friendly energy solutions.

President Marcos Jr. also urged local governments to extend full support to ensure the efficiency, safety, and productivity of the hydropower plant.

The Lake Mainit hydroelectric, a collaboration between Markham Resources Corp. and J-POWER Group, is a run-of-river power project promises numerous benefits, aiming to sustainably serve approximately 45,000 households while generating socioeconomic opportunities for residents of Agusan del Norte and Mindanao.

More high dams are on the drawing board, if not already on the way. The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) announced on March 28, 2024, its plans to construct four new “high dams” by 2028, aiming to bolster the country’s water security and address flood control requirements.

According to NIA Administrator Eddie G. Guillen, these dams will be erected in the Tumauini River, Panay River Basin, Ilocos Sur, and Mindanao, following President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s directive.

Guillen emphasised the multifaceted benefits of high dams, citing irrigation, flood control, power generation, domestic water supply, and aquaculture as key advantages.

He underscored the President’s focus on these projects, highlighting the substantial returns they offer. High dams, by NIA standards, have a height of 100 metres or higher.

20 dams

The NIA Administrator disclosed plans for the completion of at least 20 high and medium-sized dams by 2028, with 10 slated to kick off construction in 2024.

Some of these dams, Guillen explained, have undergone expedited development through a design and build manual, aiming for completion within the current year.

“Our design and build manual shortened the implementation of the dam from conception to actual construction by three years,” noted Guillen.

Planned sites

Among the potential sites for these dams in the Visayas region, NIA is actively engaged in projects such as the Jalaur Dam and other initiatives within the Panay River Basin, alongside smaller or medium-sized dam constructions.

In addition to new constructions, the government aims to rehabilitate major dams like Magat and Pantabangan, which have served for nearly half a century.

This comprehensive approach reflects the government’s commitment to enhancing water infrastructure to meet the country’s evolving needs.

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