GMA consulting with Congress on power crisis session

GMA consulting with Congress on power crisis session
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – President Arroyo is trying to convince both chambers of Congress to muster a quorum and pass a joint resolution authorizing government power utilities to increase their generating capacities to address the power crisis in Mindanao.

Deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said Mrs. Arroyo has to use her power of persuasion because it would be an embarrassment if her call for a special session is ignored.

“These things (special session) are being consulted with the President and especially with leaders of Congress, who can say whether we can have a quorum, if a special session would be called,” Saludo told a radio interview.

“If a special session would be called and only a few (lawmakers) attend, we would just be embarrassed,” he said.

The long dry spell brought about by the El Niño phenomenon has crippled Mindanao’s hydroelectric plants.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier said she was adopting the recommendations of Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes that the Mindanao power crisis be dealt with by emergency powers.

Reyes said this would justify the President’s invoking Section 71 or the Electric Power Crisis Provision of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001, which provides that “upon the determination by the President of an imminent shortage of the supply of electricity, Congress may authorize, through joint resolution, the establishment of additional generating capacity under such terms and conditions as it may approve.”

The energy chief stressed that he was not asking for emergency powers as provided for under the Constitution but only the one stipulated in the EPIRA.

Saludo pointed out that it is Congress’ responsibility under the law to set the terms and conditions for allowing additional generation capacities.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, who heads the House energy committee, claimed he is not keen on bestowing emergency powers on his mother.

“I have always maintained that the crisis powers be only used as a last resort in dealing with the Mindanao energy situation,” he said.

“It is the Mindanaoans themselves, through their duly elected representatives in Congress, who are demanding invoking Section 17 of the EPIRA Law enabling the President to utilize crisis powers to contract additional generating capacity for the island,” Rep. Arroyo stressed.

“As the chair of the House energy committee, I can only accede to their demands. After all, they are the ones who are directly affected by the energy situation in Mindanao,” he said. “I believe their sentiments are truly reflective of that of the entire island.”

Visayas power ‘stable’

President Arroyo, meanwhile, said power has stabilized in the Visayas with the inauguration of an 82-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Toledo City in Cebu.

Mrs. Arroyo led the ceremonial switch-on of the P3-billion facility yesterday.

“This additional power signals the end of rotating brownouts in the Visayas, and also marks the end of importing power from Luzon, which is also burdened,” the President said.

She said she is looking forward to other power plants coming on stream in May and December.

The facility is the first of three units of the 246-MW coal-fired power plant of the Cebu Energy Development Corp.

The facility is a joint venture among Global Business Power Corp. (GBPC), the power arm of the Metrobank group, Formosa Heavy Industries Corp., Aboitiz Power Corp., and Vivant Power Corp.

‘Close to impossible’

In light of the bicameral setup of Congress, it would almost be impossible for President Arroyo to be granted emergency powers to address Mindanao’s worsening power problem, Speaker Prospero Nograles said.

“Just read the statements of the senators and you will already know that granting the President emergency powers is close to impossible. There must be some other way to address this problem,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, most of the lawmakers were already out campaigning for the May elections.

“Many of our senators are either running for re-election or are seeking other elective posts. This is the same case with our congressmen, so it would not be easy to hold a special session now even if the leadership of both houses are ready and willing to oblige,” Nograles said.

Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the declaration of a power crisis in Mindanao should not justify the President’s skirting bidding and procurement laws.

“But that (special session) is not impossible. Of course, we will have to see first if that will push through. We have to make sure they cannot use the money for monkey business,” Pimentel said.

“That is the problem here because if they will use special powers, then there is no more public bidding. They might buy more than what is needed and at high prices,” he added.

Transparency

In Davao City, Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. urged President Arroyo to be transparent in forging power contracts.

“I want to know if this would also mean new power contracts. She should make public any power contracts because of the special power granted to her through EPIRA,” he said.

“We know that there is an energy problem that needs to be addressed. But we need to dig deeper why there is a power crisis and how this came about,” the NP standard-bearer added.

He also said authorities must explain why several power stations have conked out.

“I am just wondering, and I want to get an explanation why these problems came one after the other. The maintenance of these power plants should have been taken care of as part of preventive maintenance,” he said.

Administration presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro Jr., for his part, proposed that government explore other energy sources, including nuclear.

He said the Philippines should take pointers from the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, which recently inked a $25-billion contract with a Korean electric power company for the setting up of nuclear power plants.

“I don’t see the reason why we should not (explore nuclear power). Filipinos used to run the plants in Korea and Japan, I think. We can certainly do it here,” Teodoro said.

Less hydropower

Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon said the country should “reduce dependence on hydroelectric power and consider alternative sources of energy.”

“Since hydroelectric power is dependent on the water supply, each time El Niño occurs, we are plunged into a power crisis,” Biazon, an LP senatorial candidate, said.

“El Niño is a recurring phenomenon due to climate change and our geographic location. It means that the conditions that bring us to an energy crisis due to low water levels will be a recurring problem too,” Biazon noted.

“The percentage of power produced by hydroelectric plants is such that if their operation is affected, we go into a power crisis. Therefore, we should reduce the dependence on hydro or develop more hydro plants. Or we should look for other sources,” he added.

Businessman Joey de Venecia, for his part, said the Arroyo administration might enter into “sweetheart deals” with “favored suppliers” if given emergency powers.

“These Palace favorites are already salivating about how they will divide the estimated P10-billion worth of contracts being planned to fund the emergency leases of power barges which Filipino taxpayers will end up paying for,” the Pwersa ng Masa senatorial candidate said.

Malampaya reopening

Meanwhile, Shell Petroleum Exploration B.V. said it would resume operations of Malampaya natural gas facility on March 12 as scheduled and not on March 6.

“There seems to be a misunderstanding by some agencies that we are starting up earlier. Kindly note it is still as planned and committed which is March 12,” SPEX’s Karen Agabin said in a text message.

As this developed, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines said Luzon and Mindanao will continue to have power deficiencies. This means rotating blackouts are likely to continue today.

Luzon will have generation deficiency of up to 641 MW. In Mindanao, the available capacity is only 751MW as against peak demand of 1,451MW. Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Donnabelle Gatdula, Aurea Calica, Jaime Laude, Christina Mendez, Roel Pareño, Edith Regalado, Jose Rodel Clapano

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.