Power crisis perils polls
Brownouts hit South; red alert situation
By Julie Alipala, Amy R. Remo, Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Mindanao is suffering from a serious power shortage as a result of a dry spell, raising fears that the shortfall could imperil the conduct of automated elections on the island.
The island accounts for 12 million or about a fourth of the country’s 50 million registered voters.
Since Wednesday, National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) has placed Mindanao under red alert because the power situation on the island continued to worsen. A red alert status means that the grid has no reserves.
The Mindanao grid recorded a power supply deficit of 218 megawatts (MW) two days ago, prompting authorities to implement two-hour rotating brownouts.
As of Thursday, the Visayas grid recorded a shortfall of 81 MW, while the Luzon grid enjoyed a reserve of 832 MW.
On the sidelines of a power stakeholders’ meeting in Zamboanga City, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said the power shortage was so serious that Mindanao’s rotating brownouts could be increased to four hours a day.
About 52 percent of Mindanao’s power supply comes from hydroelectric plants [whose turbines are run by water], making the country’s second largest island particularly vulnerable to a prolonged dry season.
For the past months, the dry spell has dramatically cut the capability of its hydropower sources to generate electricity, said NGCP, which transmits high-voltage power from generators to distributors.
“Contingency reserve is zero due to generation deficiency caused by reduced capabilities from two hydropower plants—the Agus Hydro with 50-percent reduction and the Pulangi plant with 75-percent reduction,” NGCP said.
The Mindanao grid has been on red alert since last month, although on some days—Sundays in particular—the alert status is lifted, said Carlito Claudio, NGCP vice president for operations.
Batteries on standby
NGCP has warned of a possible power supply shortage in Mindanao during the elections. Claudio said the Mindanao grid might experience a 144-MW deficit in May.
At a hearing in the House of Representatives, Claudio said that on Election Day, Mindanao would have a “small shortage of four megawatts but this can be offset if we are able to tap several generators in the grid.”
The country will hold its first automated general elections on May 10. Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines will be used nationwide for the casting of ballots and the counting of votes.
In case of a power outage, a PCOS machine can use its batteries, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Pio Benavidez, National Power Corp. (Napocor) senior vice president, said Reyes was already talking with owners of “embedded generators” that could provide up to 50 MW of additional electricity on May 10.
Embedded generators are privately owned generators like those in malls and electric cooperatives.
Benavidez said at the hearing the “mothballed” Iligan diesel power plant could also be used to provide an additional 30 MW on Election Day.
“If the four megawatts can be supplied, we will have no power problem on Election Day,” Claudio said.
An opposition lawmaker warned that Mindanao’s votes might not be counted on Election Day because of the power crisis.
Failure of elections
“There can be failure of elections in Mindanao which will result in 12 million votes being lost out of the 50 million votes (nationwide.) Then, we will have a problem if this will not be solved,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez Thursday said at a House energy committee hearing.
Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez asked for the breakdown of the power shortfall at the provincial level but no one among the invited guests could provide it.
“One province can decide the outcome of these elections especially if that province will experience power failure,” Golez said.
Rodriguez said Congress should give President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo emergency powers to address the problem.
He suggested that Congress hold an emergency session and grant Ms Arroyo emergency powers under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) to allow Napocor to negotiate with private groups to supply energy to Mindanao.
Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, chair of the energy committee and son of the President, was cool to the idea of granting his mother emergency powers.
“For now, I believe that what is important there is no fear of any supply shortage in Luzon and the Visayas. The only issue is Mindanao and the Department of Energy is doing something about it,” Arroyo said.
In Zamboanga City, Reyes said the power supply shortfall in Mindanao was “not acceptable because it will not just affect the residences but commerce and industries as well.”
Reyes said the worsening power situation in the country was the reason he was been holding consultations.
He said one proposal being pushed was the implementation of Section 71 of the EPIRA, which allows Napocor “to generate, operate and lease power to consumers other than allowing private firms to operate.”
Reyes said another proposal was to encourage more companies to put up power plants. “But with the low tariff rate in Mindanao, private firms are having second thoughts in investing here,” he said.
Claudio expressed optimism that the power supply in the Visayas would stabilize over the next few months.
New plants in Visayas
He said two units of the coal-fired power plant of Cebu Energy Development Corp. would begin commercial operations in the first half of the year.
The first unit, which has an 82-MW capacity, will start operating next month. Also in the pipeline is the 200-MW Kepco-Salcon power plant in Naga City, Cebu.
These power plants are expected to boost the power supply in the Cebu-Negros-Panay grid.
Claudio added that the Luzon grid might be able to supply part of the electricity requirements of the Visayas grid.
Power supply in Luzon has stabilized with the operation of 540-MW Limay combined cycle power plant in Bataan. By May, most of the power facilities in Luzon would have completed their maintenance repairs.