Cheap electricity: A possibility for today's poor? (Part 2)
In Part II of his investigative essay, Resurgent contributor Mike Baños explores an “inclusive solution to the refilling of butane canisters with LPGs” in the context of “serving energy needs of the poorest of the poor at the base of the pyramid.” Will the Duterte Administration consider it?
Cheap electricity: A possibility for today's poor? (Part 2)
Hundreds of butane canisters are found in a compound used for liquefied petroleom gas refilling. Butane canisters refilled with LPG are extreme fire hazards. Its use has been blamed for several fires. (Photo
In Part II of his investigative essay, Resurgent contributorMike Baños explores an “inclusive solution to the refilling of butane canisters with LPGs” in the context of “serving energy needs of the poorest of the poor at the base of the pyramid.” Will the Duterte Administration consider it?
In an effort to come up with measures that benefit, rather than penalize citizens for seeking affordable solutions to their daily needs, the Cagayan de Oro City Price Coordinating Council is seeking an inclusive, rather than exclusive solution, to the widespread refilling of empty butane canisters with Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for household use.
“We should resolve this issue by directly addressing the motive why people are doing this,” said representatives of the Konsumanteng Kagay-anon, Inc. (KKI) which represents the consumers in the CPCC. “Isn’t this more a question of affordability rather than law enforcement?”
KKI requested the CPCC to request the Department of Science and Technology Region 10 (DOST-10) office to extend technical assistance to local entrepreneurs who can undertake the fabrication of smaller but sturdier LPG tanks which conform to the Philippine National Standards in the size of the butane canisters that many poorer households have resorted to refilling with LPG since they could not afford the standard 11-kilogram LPG tank.
The resolution was jointly moved and unanimously passed by the CPCC.
Disposable butane canisters are commonly used by lower income households who cannot afford the more expensive LPG gas tanks and refills.
According to a recent survey done by the CPCC at the Cogon Market, portable butane gas stoves made in China and Korea are readily available from nearby stores for as low as P599. A typical one burner LPG stove with tank and regulator costs from P1, 300-1,500 or 60% more.
The butane canisters refilled with LPG costs anywhere from P35 to P25 each can likewise be easily purchased from nearby stores in the market. A refilled canister could last a homeowner as long as 3 days. Thus even if a household uses 10 canisters a month, this would only cost them P250 compared to the current refill of a typical 11-kg. LPG tank of P400 that would last the same period.
The costs of operating butane gas stoves in bigger cities like Cebu are even lower.
In a report published in a local tabloid 27 Sept 2016, a homeowners group in Cebu City opposed a proposed ordinance to ban the use of refilled butane canisters since this would displace most of their members who could only afford butane canisters.
The group told a public hearing that a typical household uses around twenty 200-gram canisters in a month priced at P12.50 each which is only 25 percent of the price of a typical 11-kg. LPG tank. In fact, the group claimed the 11-kg LPG tank poses a bigger fire hazard than the small canister. (Bunachita, 2016)
However, the Cebu City Council Committee on Public Order and Safety cited figures showing at least 44-butane related fires recorded in Cebu City since 2010, with over half happening in 2015 alone.
Stakeholders in the Cebu butane refilling industry have similarly renewed their call for government to set standards and regulate it considering it serves low income households.
The group cited how a typical 250-gram canister refilled with LPG retails for as low as P18 compared to P600 or more for the standard 11-kg LPG tank. An estimated 1.2 million people in Cebu would be adversely affected if the refilling of butane canisters with LPG is curtailed.
The Cebu LPG Budget Gas Industry Players Association contends that curtailing refilling operations would only drive the industry underground leading to the proliferation of sub-standard backyard operations which would mushroom to fill the demand estimated at 150,000 canisters a day.
The association said demand for LPG-refilled canisters in 2015 exceeded 1,000 metric tons a month in Metro Cebu, serving the C-D-E market segments in urban poor areas. It said each household uses at least 200 to 250 grams of LPG a day, or the equivalent of one canister.
The association also challenged the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to subject their products to standards testing such as ‘burst’ or ‘pressure’ tests to legitimize the industry and debunk the 2014 Department of Energy (DOE) circular on rules and regulations of the LPG industry which prohibits the refilling of LPG into “single trip and/or tin canisters or cartridges not designed or intended for LPG.”
The association’s nine member companies claim they have complied with government regulations and have business permits and Standard Compliance Certificate (SCC) from the DOE as legitimate LPG Tank refillers.
DTI – Misamis Oriental Provincial Office, which co-chairs the CPCC, said the Bureau of Product Standards (DTI-BPS) has repeatedly warned consumers against the hazards of refilling butane canisters with LPG.
“We still receive reports especially from the regions of rampant unsafe use of butane canisters for storage and refilling of LPG. We would like to caution consumers once again of the danger that these butane canisters pose, which are not intended and designed to be used for LPG storage,” warned DTI - Consumer Welfare and Business Regulation Group (DTI-CWBRG) Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya.
“These canisters cannot properly and durably store LPG and can lead to gas leaks and explosions,” Maglaya added.
Disposable butane canisters, commonly used for outdoor activities and camping, are smaller, lightweight and have a thinner metal body than LPG tanks, and are intended for only one use and then disposed. Philippine National Standard (PNS) 03-01:2000 allows only welded steel cylinders with a water capacity of 1 liter to 100 liters for the storage and transport of LPG.
“Improper usage of chemical containers is highly risky for harmful gas exposure, explosions and fires. More so, these containers did not undergo appropriate quality and safety tests and inspections meant for LPG cylinders,” said Engr. Gerardo Maglalang, Officer-in-Charge of the DTI- Bureau of Product Standards (DTI-BPS).
The LPG cylinder is one of the critical products required to undergo the BPS Product Certification Scheme for product safety and reliability.
Under this scheme, manufacturers and importers of the products under mandatory certification are required to apply for the Philippine Standard (PS) license and Import Commodity Clearance (ICC) certificate, before their products may be distributed and sold in the market.
Only manufacturers and importers whose products have passed the Philippine National Standard (PNS) requirements relevant to their product will be issued a PS license and ICC certificate. BPS requires the manufacturers and importers to place the PS and ICC marks on the products prior to distribution to their retailers for sale.
Manufacturers, importers and retailers found in violation of the scheme will be charged administratively for violating DTI Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2:2007, Republic Act (RA) 7394, (the Consumer Act of the Philippines) and RA 4109 (the Standards Law).
If found guilty, the owners/operators of erring establishments will be imposed monetary fines up to P300,000 and cancellation of any DTI-issued permit or license.
The Department of Energy’s Circular NO. 2014-01-0001 similarly prohibits the refilling of thin, single-use butane canisters with LPG because of the risk of explosions. The circular also imposes a fine of P60, 000 for violators who may also face criminal charges.
On top of this, Batas Pambansa (BP) Blg. 33, amended by Presidential Decree No. 1865, also prohibits the refilling of LPG in cylinders that are not appropriate for LPG, like butane canisters. Violators will be penalized with fines and imprisonment between two to five years or both.
The DTI urges the public to refrain from the refilling butane canisters with LPG and relay any violations to DTI Direct 751.3330 or at the nearest DTI Regional/Provincial Office. For more information, please visit www.bps.dti.gov.ph .