Mindanao power shortage worsens

Published by rudy Date posted on March 3, 2010

MANILA, Philippines – The power deficiency in Mindanao has doubled, raising fears of longer blackouts as well as massive business disruptions.

The surge in Mindanao’s power deficiency to 578 megawatts (MW) came as electricity supply in Luzon and the Visayas started to normalize yesterday.

Mindanao’s worsening power situation has also intensified calls for the government to allow the immediate establishment of new power plants.

The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) said generation deficiency was only 315 MW on Monday before it deteriorated to 578 MW.

Available capacity stood at only 822 MW compared to peak demand of 1,400 MW.

The NGCP attributed the rising generation deficiency to the declining capacities of the island’s hydropower plants as a result of the ongoing dry spell brought about by the El Niño phenomenon.

The NGCP cited the 80 percent reduction in the capacities of National Power Corp. (Napocor)’s Agus hydro-electric power plants.

The Pulangi plant, also owned by Napocor, experienced a 90-percent capacity reduction.

The water level in Lake Lanao, the source for most of the hydro power plants, has dropped to 699.08 meters, or below the critical level of 699.15 meters.

Compounding the power shortage in Mindanao is the unavailability of the 35-MW Iligan diesel plant and the 100-MW power barge 117.

The diesel-fired plant reportedly has a tax dispute with the local government while the PB 117 has just been turned over to its new owner Aboitiz Power Corp.

The Department of Energy said new power plants with a combined capacity of at least 100 MW are needed to ease Mindanao’s energy woes.

Improvement in Luzon, Visayas

The NGCP said the power situation in Luzon and Visayas has improved, with Calaca 1 resuming operations after encountering technical problems and loading 48 MW into the Luzon grid.

The Visayas grid, on the other hand, “exported” 50 MW to 70 MW to boost the power requirements of the Luzon grid.

The Visayas grid got a boost from the entry of Cebu Energy Development Corp.’s (CEDC) generating unit.

CEDC is now running at 43 MW out of its total installed capacity of 84 MW.

On Monday, most parts of Metro Manila and nearby provinces suffered two- to three-hour rotating blackouts after the shutdown of the Sual and Masinloc power plants due to boiler tube leak.

The 647-MW Sual power plant’s unit 1 resumed operation yesterday.

With the completion of maintenance work on natural gas-fed power plants by March 6, the power situation in Luzon is expected to improve significantly.

Load sharing

At Malacañang, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said he would ask the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to allow a load-sharing scheme in which industries may share excess power with other firms.

“We are already in the process of implementing the supply augmentation program where huge enterprises or industries with excess generating capacities, extra generating capacities, can share this excess load with those who are in need, but this would need ERC approval and we are seeking ERC approval,” Reyes said in a briefing at the Palace.

He also stressed that the emergency power that he wants Mrs. Arroyo to exercise is the one provided for under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).

“The President is still in the middle of a decision-making process about what is the appropriate enabling environment within which the proper measures should be taken by her and others concerned to address the power crisis,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said at the same briefing.

He said there are other factors being considered by Mrs. Arroyo, including the political implications as well as the heavy financial cost of the proposed measures.

He chided critics for making a political issue out of the power problem.

“The important thing is to move fast but to move fast with proper care,” Olivar said.

Reyes said among the measures being considered are the importation of modular generators, leasing of power barges, and the dredging of rivers that feed dams.

“The problem is if you do import and lease power, that’s going to be quite expensive. That has to be paid upfront. If you ask the people in Mindanao, they’ll tell you we want power. We also would not want to give them expensive power,” he said.

‘Blame God’

He said the drought that has been causing dams to dry up is an “act of God.”

“You want to blame somebody, blame God,” Reyes said. He later claimed he was only joking.

“We are in very, very difficult times, now is not the time to finger-point and try to identify (blame). We can spend the whole day trying to pin the blame but there are those who complain and there are those who try to solve the problem – I’m trying to solve the problem,” he said.

“Those who are complaining, they are asking me to resign. They can apply for my job and I hope they get it,” he added.

He said that under the EPIRA, the Napocor is prohibited from generating additional power and that such responsibility rests on the private sector.

He said that since the passage of the law, the government has been enticing investors to enter the power industry.

Stop gap measures first

The opposition Liberal Party, meanwhile, urged President Arroyo to first present stop gap measures for licking the energy crisis before contemplating using emergency powers to address the problem.

“This problem can be blamed on the lack of effective governance on the part of Mrs. Arroyo. It will take two to three years to put up a power plant to address a shortage so two to three years ago, the Arroyo administration should have (done something) in anticipation of a potential shortage in Mindanao,” LP spokesman Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.

Pangilinan said Mrs. Arroyo’s son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo – being the chairman of the House committee on energy – should have extensively discussed an energy program for the country.

“So the long and short of it is, this is the fault of President Arroyo. Emergency powers is not the solution,” Pangilinan said.

He said the government must review the Napocor’s monopoly of buying and selling coal to coal-fired power plants in the country to improve this sector.

“So all the finger prints in this shortage are the finger prints of President Arroyo and her administration,” Pangilinan said.

He said emergency powers might be abused and it might lead again to the purchase of expensive equipment and dubious agreements with power producers.

LP senatorial candidate and Akabayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, for her part, warned against “manufactured, manipulated or exaggerated” statements from the government that might be used to justify emergency powers.

Hontiveros decried that the Arroyo administration, after long years in office, has not pursued the development of renewable energy and other cheaper sources of power.

Pangilinan said the government should also consider leasing power barges as a short-term solution to the power shortage.

“The government used to own these power barges but we sold them. Now that we need them, we are going to lease,” he said.

“In the long run, full implementation of the EPIRA law is how we will address (the problems) of bringing down the prices of power and power shortage and expensive cost of power and energy in the country,” Pangilinan said.

In Surigao City, Nacionalista Party standard bearer Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. and his runningmate Sen. Loren Legarda pushed for opening the power sector to the private sector.

As part of a long-term plan, Villar said he is supporting the $450-million coal-fired power project of the Alcantara owned CONAL Holdings in Maasim, Sarangani.

The first phase of the 200-MW plant is expected to be completed by 2012, while the 100-MW second phase is likely to be unveiled 18 to 24 months later.

In San Carlos City, Negros Oriental, former president Joseph Estrada blamed the massive corruption in the Arroyo administration for the power shortage.

“The prospect of an acute power shortage was already on the table as far back as five years ago, but the administration did nothing constructive to address this. As far as I’m concerned, this is all a direct result of corruption, especially with the contracts entered into with independent power producers who have made hundreds of millions in profit while Filipinos paid for energy they never consumed,” Estrada, standard-bearer of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, said. – Donnabelle Gatdula (The Philippine Star) with Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, Jose Rodel Clapano, Christina Mendez, Eva Visperas

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