The Meralco group is raring to jump-start a high-tech coal-fired power plant in Atimonan, Quezon, amid a regulatory impasse that could stall its operation.

Atimonan One Energy Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Meralco PowerGen Corp., was all set to build a P160-billion, 1,200-megawatt “ultra-supercritical” power plant, using a technology that was more advanced than the domestically pioneering San Buenaventura complex that went online in September.

The 455-megawatt San Buenaventura facility, also in Quezon province, is the country’s first supercritical coal-fired power plant.

According to the Brussels-based nonprofit GreenFacts Initiative, an ultra-supercritical power plant operates at temperatures and pressures above the critical point of water, where there is no difference between water gas and liquid water.

GreenFacts—whose avowed mission is to provide non-experts with unbiased, factual content of complex scientific consensus reports on health and the environment—said this would make such power plants more efficient than conventional coal-fired plants.

According to Meralco’s latest quarterly performance report, the engineering, procurement and construction contractor for Atimonan is engaged in preparatory work while awaiting the issuance of a notice to proceed.

The project needs a regulator-approved power supply agreement (PSA) before construction can begin. There was already a pending PSA awaiting the decision of the Energy Regulatory Commission, but the Supreme Court ordered that this, among other proposed contracts, must undergo a competitive bidding.

Atimonan One took part in the bidding for a PSA that required a greenfield or brand-new project. Sans a competing proposal, the bidding failed.

Meralco had then coordinated with the Department of Energy on how to go about the next round of bidding. To bring in more competitors, it was suggested that existing facilities or “brownfield” projects could take part.

Meralco president and chief executive Ray Espinosa said, however, this would complicate the process as “there are financial and economic differences between brownfield and greenfield plants (such that) PSAs that are awarded to these types of plants vary and differ in financial and economic terms.”

Espinosa said one major difference was that a greenfield PSA would run for 20 years while a brownfield contract would run between five and 10 years.