MANILA, Philippines - The government moved yesterday to avert massive power outages in Metro Manila and ease the ongoing blackouts in Mindanao, with President Aquino presiding over a meeting at Malacañang on the energy situation.Aquino said the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) had been tasked to ensure that Metro Manila be spared from power outages after a key transformer in Las Piñas broke down on the night of March 20.
In a briefing, Aquino said the Luzon grid has excess power supply for Metro Manila’s emergency needs.
Aquino, together with Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, announced that contingency measures were in place and that alternative sources of power were available for Meralco and the NGCP.
In a statement, Meralco said the reliability of its sub-transmission system feeding power to the Makati Business District, Fort Bonifacio, Ortigas Center, Parañaque, Alabang, Cainta and Marikina, among others, was undermined when the Las Piñas transformer broke down. Meralco said steps had been undertaken to prevent blackouts.
To cope with the instability, Meralco said it reconfigured the Sector 2 sub-transmission system to prevent overloading of two other transformers at the Zapote substation in Las Piñas.
“We are going to take one transformer from Biñan and we are going to install it in Las Piñas in three weeks at the latest,” said NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Perez-Alabanza.
“We have substations that are compatible with each other so we can interchange our equipment for a quick resolution,” Perez-Alabanza said.
“There were really no blackouts that transpired as a result of the outage,” said Joe Zaldarriaga, external communications manager of Meralco.
“We are on alert and we can respond to any concern,” Zaldarriaga said. “We do not expect any blackouts. We reconfigured already our system to prevent problems.” Meralco had 5.3 million customers last year, up by 3.7 percent from a year ago.
The NGCP said that in its contingency measures, it isolated the damaged transformer from the rest of Meralco’s system, sparing Metro Manila from massive blackout.
Aquino presided over a briefing on the power situation in Mindanao with Almendras, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Mindanao Development Authority chair Lou Antonino.
Aquino and Almendras also disputed allegations that the power crisis in Mindanao was artificial and intended to benefit some businesses.
Almendras said one of the measures to ease Mindanao’s problem was the deployment of power barges with 120 megawatts capacity to address the shortage.
The NGCP, since January 2012, has been issuing a red alert status for the Mindanao grid due to current generation deficiencies, ranging from 50 megawatts to 300 MW.
The energy chief admitted that Mindanao would only have enough capacity by 2014.
“In 2014 to 2016 you have enough committed projects, our shortage is really here in 2012 and 2013,” Almendras said.
The power barges were already in Mindanao but “the users have to order for power to be generated,” Almendras said when asked why power barges were not being utilized yet.
“You will have to share the burden,” Aquino said, meaning power distributors would have to buy expensive power from power barges.
But Almendras said “we are moving power capacity to Mindanao, we want to make sure we can dispatch them without affecting the price of electricity.”
Almendras said private firms and the National Power Corp. (Napocor) would provide the barges.
Almendras said a new coal-fired power plant would add 300 MW by 2014 to Mindanao where some areas were experiencing 15-hour blackouts. “They are at the end of the transmission grid,” he said.
The “real problem” in Mindanao, Almendras said, was that it needed additional generation capacity.
“It needs non-hydro generation capacity,” Almendras explained. He said the demand was 1,100 to 1,200 MW and that 700 MW was coming from hydrothermal plants. Almendras also said the government was taking too much risk in depending on one source of energy.
In the summer of 2010, Almendras said there were long blackouts because there was not enough water.
Almendras said they were also worried of the changing rainfall patterns in Mindanao. “So the reliability of the hydro plant is also put in question. We really need to prepare for that,” he said.
Mylene Capongcol, director of the Electric Power Industry Management Bureau, said there were many sources of power in Mindanao, but end-users or load customers failed to pinpoint or utilize them.
“Some capacities available in Mindanao are not dispatched because they are not nominated by end-users. The DOE has issued a department circular after a series of discussions with stakeholders,” she said.
The DOE has released a circular outlining ways concerned government agencies and private firms can help in easing Mindanao’s power woes.
The measures include the dredging of rivers to improve the performance of hydropower plants as well as the implementation of energy-saving programs.
“The DOE has determined the urgent need to come up with a framework that will optimize and rationalize the utilization of all available generation capacities in Mindanao, including a provision for the reserve requirements in order to meet the demand for electricity in Mindanao region,” the DOE said.
Energy officials said the instructions were a product of consultations and meetings with relevant electricity industry players in Mindanao as well as with concerned energy agencies.
The Mindanao grid, which needs an average of 1,300 megawatts, lacks up to 300 MW. This has been causing two to four hours of rotating blackouts since January, according to the NGCP.
As of yesterday, the grid had a peak demand of 1,253 MW against a system capacity of only 1,102 MW.
“The NGCP is hereby directed to perform its obligations of ensuring and maintaining the reliability, adequacy, security and integrity of the nationwide electricity grid,” the DOE circular read.
Based on the circular, the NGCP is empowered to disconnect customers not complying with the load-to-maintain matrix “considering that such action will prejudice others that are compliant and likewise impairs the integrity of the grid.”
There are concerns that some power distributors are securing electricity from the grid that is more than their requirement.
The Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) and Napocor, meanwhile, are required to “fully utilize all available capacities of all power plants in the Mindanao region for energy purposes, taking into consideration the fluctuating demand requirement of large industrial users in the Mindanao region.”
In the circular, the DOE also directs Napocor and PSALM to dredge the Agus and Pulangi rivers to ensure efficiency of hydroelectric plants.
For the National Electrification Administration, the DOE said it should “ensure that electric cooperatives have properly forecasted and assured the contracts for the supply of electric power in their respective franchise areas to meet their obligations as distribution utilities.”
“All private investor-owned utilities and electric cooperatives, including industrial/commercial loads, shall promote demand side management and likewise optimize the use of embedded generating facilities,” DOE said in its circular.
The DOE said it would monitor the compliance of all generation companies, distribution utilities and the NGCP through the Electric Power Industry Management Bureau.
Non-compliant power industry participants face penalties to be determined by the DOE and the Energy Regulatory Commission.
Since 2010, the DOE has been batting for additional baseload generating capacity for Mindanao through private investor participation. But the DOE said there were delays in securing permits from local government units. For instance, Aboitiz Power Corp., Sarangani Energy Corp., and San Miguel Corp. are planning to put up coal-fired power plants in Mindanao but host communities are opposing their plans due to environmental concerns.
For reportedly not doing enough to address the power crisis in Mindanao, Napocor and NGCP are facing a class suit to be filed by a party-list group.
Agham party-list Rep. Angelo Palmones told reporters in Kidapawan City that Napocor and NGCP should be made to account for neglecting their duties and letting the power shortage worsen.
“It appears they have not been doing their respective duties. They should have had prepared contingencies for this. Sadly they have none,” Palmones said.
“This has badly affected the economy of so many now supposedly booming areas in Mindanao, particularly those in the countryside,” Palmones said. “I know of thousands of families losing costly appliances destroyed by these sectional rationing of electricity, over and above its bad impact on local industries.”
Residents have also complained about the lack of information on the operational status of a state-run geothermal power plant in Mt. Apo in Barangay Ilomavis, Kidapawan City.
“What is so surprising is that the province is host to two geothermal power plants that supply about 100 megawatts of power to the Mindanao grid,” Palmones said.
For Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, Mindanao’s power crisis could be blamed on economic saboteurs.
“Mindanao could not be lacking in power sources like its hydropower sources and other power alternatives. I hope it is not human greed for the power of money that is causing all our woes,” Nograles said. He said Congress should investigate the matter to determine who the culprits are or if changes are needed in existing laws against economic sabotage.
“We have to pinpoint the real culprit. There must be an explanation to all these unnecessary sufferings we are experiencing,” he said.
“If it is found out that the power problem is but an artificial result of sabotage, this is a crime which deserves the harshest of penalties,” he said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he has no problem with Congress conducting an inquiry into the power outages in Mindanao but stressed the DOE should first be given time to rectify and investigate the matter.
“At a certain point I guess we will also want to look at it. But for the moment, since it has already called the attention of the DOE and according to them they are on top of it. It’s not artificial according to them. I guess we have to give them a chance to do something about it,” Belmonte told reporters. - With Edith Regalado, John Unson, Paolo Romero, Neil Jerome Morales - By Aurea Calica