Electric Power Industry Reform Act

GMA has enough powers to deal with crisis – Gibo

GMA has enough powers to deal with crisis – Gibo
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Administration presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said President Arroyo has enough powers to deal with the unfolding energy crisis, which has sparked rotating blackouts in many parts of the country including Metro Manila.

Teodoro told The STAR editors and reporters that Mrs. Arroyo should act now to prevent the crisis from worsening and that she should consider allowing the immediate importation of power barges as a stopgap measure.

“I think whatever emergency powers the President has should be exercised because it’s there already,” Teodoro said.

“But we must also have a clear roadmap of what to do in the short-term, medium-term and the long-term. What’s the use of these powers and solutions if we don’t know where we’re going?” he said.

“One way (to address the crisis) is to allow the hassle-free entry of power barges. That’s the fastest way,” he said.

But a downside to such importation, he admitted, is bigger consumption of bunker oil.

Teodoro said Mrs. Arroyo should also call for an emergency meeting with leaders of Congress, officials and representatives from the energy sector, and even leaders of the opposition and other stakeholders.

He also urged Mrs. Arroyo to immediately call an emergency session of Congress to allow both chambers to pass a joint resolution on enhancing the country’s generating capacity.

Teodoro was referring to Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act 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.”

“But in the meantime, let us discover first what can she immediately do under existing law. For example, she may suspend duties on certain badly needed items under the Tariff and Customs Code,” Teodoro said.

“Everything must be clear: what are the powers to be exercised, what are the steps to be taken, etc. so that time and resources are not wasted,” he said.

He said the crisis is likely to be over at the onset of the rainy season.

For a long-term solution, Teodoro said the government should consider nuclear power, it being cheaper and much safer with the present technological advancements.

He noted that developed countries like Japan and South Korea rely on nuclear power. He stressed, however, that he is against activating the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

It was opposition Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro who first broached the idea of giving Mrs. Arroyo emergency powers in dealing with the power shortage in Mindanao where the effects of the El Niño phenomenon have stymied the operation of hydroelectric plants, the dominant power generators in the island.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes has also issued the same call and a Palace spokesman said she is ready to give his proposal “utmost consideration.”

“Let’s give the President enough time to make her way through this minefield, not only the legitimate issues for her to consider but also the innuendos being raised by overheated campaign rhetoric,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said.

Special session

At the House of Representatives, the energy committee chaired by presidential son Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo approved a resolution calling for a special joint session of Congress to discuss the proposed granting of emergency powers to the President.

But Rep. Arroyo is not keen on granting his mother additional powers. “At this point in time, I believe additional powers for the President are not yet necessary,” he said during the committee’s hearing yesterday.

“We need to sit down, the House and the Senate. Let me remind my colleagues in the Senate, even those presidentiables, if they are saying that they are leading in the surveys, then magtrabaho na tayo (let’s work) and let us address this issue,” Arroyo said.

“We are here to serve the people. Let’s not use the elections as excuse to skip a special session,” he said.

Arroyo said granting his mother special powers should be a “last resort.”

“Energy Secretary Reyes admitted there was a problem but he also presented solutions. If the private sector could deliver on their commitments, we will have no problem,” the congressman said.

“But in the event the solutions are not enough, and (there is a) need to grant the President additional powers, transparency should be guaranteed,” he added.

But Rodriguez said people affected by the debilitating blackouts should not be made to wait for long. “We are experiencing four- to 12-hour brownouts in Mindanao. We cannot wait. The matter isn’t whether it is doable or not. We have to do it. We in Mindanao could not delay this,” Rodriguez insisted.

He said parameters should be set to keep the President from abusing emergency powers.

“We are in an election period so we have to see to it that funds to be used for generating additional power capacity would not be re-channeled to campaign funds,” Rodriguez stressed.

Speaker Prospero Nograles, on the other hand, is not keen on calling a special session.

“No need for special session. Energy laws have enough powers to address crisis and act swiftly,” he said.

Special powers backed

Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Simeon Datumanong appealed to government critics to set aside politics and help address the problem.

“I urge the government to adopt measures to address the power problem in Mindanao which is very critical now. Let us now grant the President emergency powers to quickly solve the crisis,” Datumanong said.

Agusan del Norte Rep. Jose Aquino II, spokesman of Lakas-Kampi-CMD, said the power crisis in Mindanao is more urgent and important than the forthcoming elections in May.

“The people in Mindanao are more concerned about their plight as more and more people in the province are being affected by the power problem,” Aquino said.

“Instead of agitating the public with their baseless scenarios, critics should join us in pushing for the granting of emergency powers to the President so that the power problem in Mindanao will be immediately solved,” Aquino said.

Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Antonio Cerilles, chairman of the special committee on land use, also voiced support for special powers for Mrs. Arroyo.

“It is easy for the critics of the government to oppose the emergency power because they are not affected by it right now,” Cerilles said.

“Any presidentiable who is against the emergency power of the President is biased against Mindanao or anti-Mindanao.”

Worse scenario

Senators Francis Escudero and Manuel Roxas II said giving President Arroyo emergency powers might again result in expensive power purchase agreements.

“Extended dry season and water shortage are not alien in this tropical country, why did the Department of Energy under the helm of Secretary Reyes allow this to swell into the problem that it is today? That is why the DOE is there, to make sure that we do not fall again into the pit we were in 10 years ago,” Escudero said.

“An effective and competent government should have been by now equipped with a comprehensive energy plan or road map at the very least to avoid going to the extreme, which is always a burden that ordinary people suffer,” Escudero said.

Roxas said Reyes’ proposal should not be taken seriously because emergency powers for Mrs. Arroyo is not the solution.

“What you need is rain. Even if you give the President emergency powers, what can she do to make rain? For me, the emergency powers for Mindanao (energy crisis) are ridiculous,” Roxas said.

He said the government might not have other choices but to acquire power barges as a short-term response to the problem.

He said new coal-fired power plants could ease the problem in the medium- and long-term.

“The problem is it will take five to seven years to build such kind of plant. So, between now and five years from now, we can only have stopgap measures,” Roxas said.

Former Senate president Franklin Drilon also voiced opposition to special powers for Mrs. Arroyo.

“There are rules in bidding which allow emergency purchase (of standby power). The government can purchase without the need for presidential emergency powers,” Drilon told the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Hotel media forum.

“We can address this by utilizing existing rules which shorten the bidding process but still with public bidding,” Drilon explained.

Metro blackouts

Meanwhile, two-hour rotating blackouts hit most parts of Metro Manila and nearby provinces yesterday due to the unexpected shutdown of two Luzon-based power plants, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) said.

The manual load shedding or two-hour rotating blackouts started within the franchise area of the Manila Electric Co. at 10 a.m.

“Demand is less after past 10 p.m. so no more rotating blackout after this time and we will just resume the next day,” NGCP said.

NGCP said the two-hour power interruption was a result of the shutdown of Unit 1 of Sual due to a boiler tube leak. The 647-megawatt Sual is run by Team Energy Philippines in partnership with Tokyo Electric.

Another power plant which suffered from the same technical problem, NGCP said, was Masinloc Unit 1 with 315 MW. Masinloc is managed by US-based AES Corp.

The NGCP said the entire Philippines had power deficiency yesterday.

The Luzon grid for instance, as of March 1, had peak demand of 6,655 MW as against the 6,177 MW available capacity, or a generation deficiency of 170 MW. With Delon Porcalla, Donnabelle Gatdula, Aurea Calica, Helen Flores, Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez