Rotating blackouts in Mindanao

Published by rudy Date posted on March 1, 2014

MANILA, Philippines – Mindanao will continue to experience two- to three-hour rotating blackouts because not all power plants are back online after the region suffered an island-wide power outage on Thursday, officials said yesterday.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla said that Steag State Power Inc.’s 210-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Misamis Oriental remains offline even as the other hydropower plants are back in service.

“What will happen if Steag is not restored by summer? I don’t think that will happen at this point. They can’t give a definite answer when it will be up and running, but I think they are getting some consultants at this point,” Petilla said.

In the absence of the Steag plant, the power supply in Mindanao is only 80 to 85 percent restored, Petilla said.

A malfunction in the government’s Agus 1 hydropower plant in Lanao del Norte caused the power outage, Petilla said yesterday, quoting initial findings.

In particular, he said the tripping happened after one of the plant’s circuit breakers was turned on and off. The power outage cascaded to Agus 2 and to the other power plants because of low frequency.

At Malacañang, President Aquino said he wants power restored in the whole of Mindanao at the soonest possible time before focusing on the investigation to find out the cause of the outage.

Technical problems

In a separate advisory, the German-owned Steag plant said its two units tripped after the Agus and Pulangi plants tripped.

It also said the company is working hard to restore the operations of the plant, which suffered when technical problems were detected in its turbine generators.

“We have mobilized all our resources to restore the units back on line,” Steag president and chief executive officer Bodo Goerlich said in the advisory.

Mindanao experienced an island-wide power outage starting at 3:53 a.m. on Thursday.

A total of 1,100 to 1,200 megawatts went offline.

Petilla has assured the public the power outage is not an indicator of a worsening power situation in the country, although he conceded that Mindanao may experience three-hour rotating blackouts in the summer months due to a projected supply deficiency of 170 megawatts during that period.

He said there were no indications of sabotage by armed groups or lawless entities, but further investigation is ongoing.

Petilla added that heads will roll if there is negligence on the part of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) or the power plants.

Last May 8, an island-wide power outage also hit Luzon when one of NGCP’s transmission lines went down.

Sabotage?

Even after Petilla’s denial, talks that sabotage was behind the Mindanao-wide blackout last Thursday persist, prompting the military to say that they have not received any information supporting such theory.

Cpt. Alberto Caber, spokesman of the Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), yesterday said there were no attacks that targeted transmission towers in their area on the day of the blackout.

“There was no explosion incident in our area,” he said in a phone interview.

Cpt. Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said they have been informed that the power outage was caused by a technical glitch.

A security official, however, said the blackout was caused by an explosion that happened in Lanao del Norte before dawn of Thursday. Lanao del Norte is part of Wesmincom’s area of responsibility.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the explosion toppled NGCP tower no. 6 at Barangay Abaga in Baloi, Lanao del Norte at about 3 a.m., about the same time the power interruption occurred.

The affected tower is reportedly the main distribution line from the National Power Corp. Agus hydroelectric plant in Barangay Maria Cristina.

The source said cutting off the plant would cause the entire Mindanao grid to fail and would stop smaller power plants from loading up.

Authorities are reportedly determining who are behind the explosion. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front have reportedly denied any involvement in the incident.

“Why would we do it? There is no reason for us to do it,” MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghazaali Jaafar told The STAR yesterday.

Authorities are said to be looking into the possible involvement of other Lanao del Sur-based groups like the Khalifa Islamiyah, a group of young militants, and the Al Khobar Group, which has been tagged in various extortion incidents.

When asked to verify the source’s claim, military officials said they have no information about the supposed explosion.

“We have not received an official report about that,” Muyuela told The STAR.

A senior military official who requested anonymity also said there were no indications of sabotage for now.

“Investigation is still ongoing and more or less, it is an internal NGCP problem,” he said.

Alarmed

Meanwhile, a network of organizations opposed to power rate hike yesterday expressed alarm at the government’s continuing failure to address the critical power crisis that has been plaguing Mindanao for the last five years.

“Thursday’s island-wide blackout, the cause of which the Department of Energy (DOE) remained clueless 24 hours after the incident, comes on the heels of the surprise revelation that in Pablo-struck areas of Southern Mindanao, 57 percent of villages still have no power more than a year after the storm and despite billions of pesos spent on rehabilitation,” the People Opposed to Unwarranted Electricity Rates (POWER) said in a statement.

“Maybe it’s time Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla look for another job, probably as undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development where he can better tend to his constituents in disaster-struck Leyte,” said POWER convenor Teddy Casiño.

Casiño said Mindanao’s power woes will get worse because the DOE is bent on implementing the Interim Mindanao Electricity Market (IMEM), a clone of the dreaded Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) in Luzon that caused power rates to spike last November and December, making the Manila Electric Company seek a P4.15 per kilowatt-hour power rate hike in December and another P5.33 hike in January. – With Aurea Calica, Rhodina Villanueva, Alexis Romero, Edith Regalado. Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star)

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