Patience sought on Mindanao blackouts

Posted at 03/07/2014 2:42 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacanang is appealing for continued patience and cooperation in addressing the energy problems in Mindanao, reiterating that officials are working on all possible remedial measures to address the 158-megawatt shortfall in supply that has been causing rotating blackouts.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the use of power generators would still be an immediate and short-term solution to the lack of power supply in Mindanao.

Coloma said the government was committed to providing steady and stable power supply for its citizens but at present, the current supply in Mindanao was only at 1,064 MW compared to the peak demand of 1,222 MW.

“This explains why there are rotating brownouts at an average of two to three hours, except in Maguindanao province that is currently experiencing up to more than 10 hours of power interruption daily,” Coloma said.

He said it might be “horrible” to know about the rotating blackouts but “it is not as if people are just standing idly by” while Mindanao residents suffer due to lack of electricity.

“We are working on solutions because it is no joke to have no electricity. We are closely monitoring the (situation), hour-by-hour. The DOE (Department of Energy) sees the power situation, supply and demand, as the situation unfolds,” Coloma said.

“This is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution to be provided by all of the stakeholders,” he said.

DOE efforts

To address the power shortfall, the DOE has required all existing generation capacities in the Mindanao grid to operate and offer their power to increase supply capacity amidst an ongoing power crisis in the region.

Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said they added 128 MW in capacity through the introduction of new power supply, such as the 15-MW EEI Diesel Peaking Power Plant (2013) and 15-MW Mapalad Diesel Power Plant (2013), and recommissioning of the 98-MW Iligan Diesel Power Plant (2013).

The DOE also pushed for the rehabilitation and upgrading of the Agus 6 Power Plant Units 1 and 2 to 69 MW from 50 MW previously, as well as the infrastructure development along Balo-I plains in coordination with the Department of Public Works and Highways to maximize the capacities of Agus 1 and 2.

Aside from additional supply, the energy department also initiated several programs and measures to provide the power of choice and draw in all available resources for the benefit of the region, Petilla said.

These are the Interim Mindanao Electricity Market (IMEM), Interruptible Load Program (ILP) and the Modular Gensets Program, which are voluntary programs that can provide options for electric power providers and consumers to manage their power requirements with the corresponding costs.

Long-term solutions, meanwhile, include new power investments such as the 300-MW coal-fired Therma South Energy Project located in Davao del Sur and the 200-MW Southern Mindanao coal-fired plant in Sarangani that will add another 500 MW by 2015.

Another plant is the 405-MW coal-fired power plant of FDC Utilities Inc. in Misamis Oriental, which is slated to come online by September 2016.

Petilla admitted it would take a while to build a plant, which is why private sector investments need to come in now for future demand.

“It takes two to four years to build a new power plant. We in the energy sector realize that the problems that we face now require long-term solutions,” Petilla said.

He added that facilitating investors’ interest to bring in new capacities to meet the increasing demand is a priority not only in Mindanao but also across the country.

The DOE is also working for the completion of the Leyte-Mindanao Interconnection Project by 2018, which would link the Mindanao grid with the Luzon and Visayas grids and enable power sharing when there is a shortfall in supply.

Patience

Coloma stressed the DOE continues to undertake reforms in the power sector, including actively pursuing a 50/50 energy mix between traditional and renewable energy with increased private sector investments in hydroelectric, biomass and solar power.

Despite the pressure and criticisms, Coloma said Petilla has the full trust and confidence of President Aquino and had been actively working to address the problems in Mindanao regarding power supply.

Coloma said they could understand the temperament of people but losing one’s temper would not solve the problem or bring about additional capacity.

“So the additional capacity, it started with this current administration and the 500 megawatts will be finished by 2015 and another 400 megawatts by 2016,” he said.

Before that, Coloma said there was really a need for the DOE, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines and the National Power Corp., the distributors and generators, among other stakeholders to coordinate and come up with a solution.

“Of course, the comfort and the patience of their customers are the ones at stake here,” Coloma said.

He said supply was being monitored on an hourly and daily basis because 200 MW from STEAG plant that is under repair would have to be taken from different sources, including the consumers’ own generator sets.

“There are also embedded generators being used. This means there is sufficient flexibility,” Coloma said.

He said they have an array of options available and it was important to have this explained, especially to the people of Mindanao.

Coloma said they were not in a guessing game as far as the power situation was concerned, and the problem was being faced squarely.

“I think what is apparent here is that we really need cooperation. We will be able to accomplish more if they help one another, right? The users and the distributors, the generators,” he said. – Iris Gonzales, John Unson