The perfect timing of blackouts

Luzon on energy ‘red alert’
By Donnabelle Gatdula (The Philippine Star) Updated February 12, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – A severe power shortage looms in Luzon this month as fuel and maintenance problems threaten to undermine the operation of two major power plants, according to a ranking official of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines .

NGCP vice president for system operations Carlito Claudio said the Luzon grid would be placed on red alert level as the power supply deficiency is seen to hit 500 megawatts between Feb. 16 and March 11.

Claudio said the 650-MW Malaya diesel-fired plant is likely to run out of fuel next week while the Limay plant – also diesel fired – is expected to remain under repair until the end of the month.

The Malaya plant is run by Korea Electric and Power Co., while the 620-MW Limay is managed by San Miguel Energy Corp. (SMEC).

“Malaya was intended to be used for the shutdown of the Malampaya-fueled power plants starting Feb.10, but it was compelled to run in January due to Sual and Limay shutdown. Malaya said it would run out of inventory already,” he said.

Claudio said the “critical period” would be between Feb.16 to March 11. “We are worried about the deficiency this month. At the rate that Malaya power plant is going, its inventory will run out soon,” he said.

He said the system is expected to stabilize after the completion of the maintenance work on the 2,700-MW natural gas-fired power plants – Santa Rita, San Lorenzo and Ilijan – possibly on March 10.

Claudio said NGCP would communicate with the Department of Energy (DOE) regarding the impending power supply problem.

“We will inform the DOE on the situation then we could issue the notice,” he said.

He said at present, Luzon is on yellow alert level with reserves of only 100 MW.

Last month, the franchise areas of the Manila Electric Co. were subjected to rotating blackouts because of the unexpected shutdown of Limay and Sual power plants.

El Niño threat

The DOE is closely monitoring hydroelectric power plants in the country, particularly those in Mindanao, to ensure reliable power supply amid threat of El Niño or a severe dry spell.

“The hydropower plants will have to be monitored. We have to see to it that they are operating and that they are delivering the right amount of power given the constraint imposed on the amount of water that will be available to them,” Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said.

Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate and former Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC) director Ramon Mitra, meanwhile, said it is “high time for the government to look at the country’s energy generation mix.”

“The dependency on hydro power plants has been causing this red alert. This is high time for the government, particularly the PNOC, to start fast tracking the processing of the proposals for major power infrastructure,” he said.

Mitra cited plans for the development of a natural gas pipeline aimed at helping lessen the country’s dependence on intermittent energy resources such as hydro power plants.

“I call on PNOC to process these proposals at the soonest possible time. We have natural gas projects in the pipeline,” he said.

“We have banked gas as well as new gas coming from Palawan. All we have to do is process these proposals,” Mitra said.

Reyes said Mindanao is home to some of the biggest hydro facilities in the country and yet many of its localities have little or no electricity.

The National Power Corp. (Napocor) runs the Agus 1-6 hydro-power complex in Mindanao. Its Unit 4 is currently down.

The government has so far privatized 12 hydro power plants. Under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) or Republic Act 9136, the Agus complex will be auctioned off in 2011, or 10 years after the signing of EPIRA.

The Agus complex’s total capacity is over 700 megawatts (MW) or about half of the 1,500 MW dependable capacity of the entire Mindanao province.

Based on the DOE’s Power Supply and Demand 2008-2017, Mindanao needs 600 MW during the period but only has 100 MW of committed projects.

The DOE said Mindanao’s power situation is vulnerable to water lack because hydro plants supply half of the requirement of the grid.

Mindanao suffered rotating blackouts when most of its power plants shut down for various reasons in September 2009.

The ProPinoy Project