Palace still wishing for Arroyo powers
By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang is not giving up hope the Senate and House of Representatives can still convene a special session and grant special powers to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to address the power crisis in Mindanao.
Gary Olivar, the President’s deputy spokesperson, Sunday said Ms Arroyo might ask her allies in both chambers of Congress, especially those running in the May 10 elections, to take a break from their campaign and attend such a session.
At the weekly Palace media forum aired at Radyo ng Bayan, Olivar said Ms Arroyo would resort to this course of action if the government could determine that she could not address the power crisis without congressional help.
Mindanao has been hit by crippling rotating brownouts because hydroelectric plants, its main source of electricity, are running way below capacity because of low water levels at their reservoirs due to the dry spell.
Luzon and the Visayas are also suffering from outages.
Speaker Prospero Nograles on Saturday said that there could be no special session of Congress because not enough lawmakers could commit their attendance to the gathering.
Nograles and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Friday said they were willing to call a special session but doubted that a quorum could be mustered because many lawmakers seeking reelection or another elective office in the May elections were busy campaigning.
Olivar conceded that many lawmakers were busy on the campaign trail and might not be available to attend a special session to decide on granting Ms Arroyo the special power to invoke Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).
The EPIRA provision will allow state-owned National Power Corp. to contract additional generating capacity.
“If we will have problems with the special session then there’s really only much we can do,” Olivar said.
Sure to attend
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez contested Nograles’ contention that there could be no special session because not enough lawmakers would attend it.
Rodriguez said lawmakers, especially the 61 from Mindanao, would attend the session since they were feeling the blow of the power crisis.
With this number, only 74 more lawmakers are needed to constitute a quorum, and he thinks that those from the Visayas and Luzon will join the session because they, too, are reeling from outages.
Rodriguez said he did not know why Nograles was opposing a special session when all of Mindanao’s residents and businesses were suffering from 5- to 12-hour brownouts.
Rodriguez, a member of former President Joseph Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, said lawmakers were willing to cross party lines.
No need for EPIRA
Olivar said the Palace was also considering the idea that the government would not need the EPIRA provision and thus the special session to address the Mindanao power crisis.
He said the government would look into whether it would actually “buy or construct new capacity” or simply “lease” the generation additional power.
He said the latter might be “construed as something that no longer needs the section of the EPIRA.”
The administration should not forget the plight of daily wage earners as the power crisis in the country worsens, Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate Susan Ople said Sunday.
“The government should look at all aspects of the energy crisis, not just power supply but also dwindling sales and threatened incomes,” said Ople, a former labor undersecretary.
“What began as a power crisis can easily blow up into a full-scale economic and social crises as different sectors express dismay over the absence of any holistic plan to address rotating brownouts,” she said.
Power supply reserves in Luzon and the Visayas are expected to remain “thin” within the week as several more power facilities conduct their maintenance repairs, according to National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP).
“Barring any unplanned shutdown of two power plants at the same time, Luzon customers will be assured of uninterrupted power supply (within the March 6-11 period),” NGCP said.
Peak demand in Luzon during the period is expected to reach an average of 6,890 MW.
NGCP said Modules 30 and 10 of the Sta. Rita plant in Batangas (owned by the Lopez-led First Gas Power Corp.) were scheduled to resume operations on March 7. These units have a combined generating capacity of 500 MW.
The scheduled maintenance repairs of the 600-MW Block at the Ilijan natural gas power plant were expected to be completed Sunday, while the 600-MW Ilijan Block A will resume operations by March 11. The Ilijan facility is owned by Kepco Ilijan Corp. (Keilco)
The Malampaya deep water gas-to-power project, operated by Shell Philippines Exploration BV, is scheduled to resume supplying natural gas by March 12, according to NGCP.
This will help stabilize the power supply in Luzon since the Malampaya supplies gas to the 1,200-MW Ilijan plant, the 1,000-MW Sta. Rita and the 500-MW San Lorenzo plants of First Gen. Corp. All these facilities are located in Batangas.
The 300-MW Unit 1 of the Calaca coal-fired power plant in Batangas is still faced with technical problems. The facility, owned by DMCI Holdings Inc., is expected to go on stream by March 12.
To augment the power supply in Luzon, NGCP said the 650-MW Malaya power plant in Rizal would operate at full capacity within the week. With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Philip C. Tubeza and Amy R. Remo