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We are facing an ‘avoidable power crisis’



ROTATING brownouts were enforced in Metro Manila and various parts of Luzon last week. As of mid-day Friday, some 1.38 million customers – households, factories, and offices – of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) were affected, as were thousands of other customers of electric cooperatives. Outside of Metro Manila, the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon, were hit by the power interruptions.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi called for an emergency meeting with the generating com­panies and other stakeholders. The big loss of power supply, according to the Department of Energy, was due to a combination of both planned maintenance and unplanned outages of several power plants.

Because of the major fall in generation capacity, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) issued a yellow alert notice Thursday morning, warning of low reserves, followed by a red alert the next day, saying that there was already insufficient supply in the grid.

And yet, it is an “avoidable power crisis” the country is facing, according to the NGCP. It can be avoided if the government acts swiftly to resolve pending proposals for new power facilities. At least 5,000 megawatts of such proposed facilities remain pending before various government agencies, including the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

There is need for additional and newer power plants. It is said that many of the plants un­dergoing forced and unplanned outages are over 15 years old and they continue to operate despite their inefficiencies. When they shut down, resulting in a deficiency in the total power supply in the grid, prices go up in the spotmarket, subjecting the public to higher rates.

More critical than price hikes, are the brownouts that are now plaguing households and various commercial and industrial operations, along with many small businesses. Transporta­tion and all other sectors of the economy will suffer. Metro Manila’s rail networks rely heavily on a stable power supply.

The administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program will be severely set back by a power crisis as the cement and steel plants producing the basic needs of the construc­tion industry need considerable power to operate.

It all boils down to the need for a stable power supply to meet the demands of national growth. Many of the existing power plants are breaking down and new and more plants are needed. It takes five to seven years to set up a power plant.

The red and yellow alerts and the current brownouts are symptoms of a crisis that may soon befall us but, as the NGCP has pointed out, it is an “avoidable crisis.” It can be avoided if the Department of Energy, the Energy Regulatory Commission, and the other government regulatory agencies take immediate action on so many pending plans for new power plants that have been held up for so long.