Why rotating blackouts have delayed warnings

By Leilani Chavez, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Mar 03 2010 07:23 PM | Updated as of Mar 05 2010 02:04 AM

MANILA, PhilippinesThe rotational blackouts this week show a trend: The warnings were delayed.

The rotational blackout last March 1, a Monday, came too sudden that areas in Metro Manila and areas in Luzon were already experiencing power outages before official warnings came out. The energy deparment explained that at least several power plants were shut all at the same time.

Areas in Metro Manila and Luzon again experienced blackouts on Wednesday as supply slackened due to decreasing water levels in Caliraya Lake, affecting a portion of the Kalayaan hydro plant.

The blackout happened from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday when supply was short by 236-megawatt (MW). The tranmission agency, National Grid Corporation of the Philippines(NGCP) only sounded off the warnings at around 3:40 p.m.

The rotational blackouts for the week are a far cry from previous rotational blackout scares, which came with ample warnings.

For the blackout threats last February, energy officials and allied agencies projected a substantial decline in the 650-MW plant fuel reserves as early as January. Energy officials sounded the alarm weeks ahead. The blackouts did not occur.

9 power plants offline on March 1, 2010
  • 1,200-MW Sual owned by San Miguel Energy Corporation (boiler leak)
  • 1,200-MW Ilijan natural gas plant owned by Korea Electric Power Corporation in Batangas (supply issues)
  • 1,000-MW Sta Rita natural gas, owned by First Gen Corp (under maintenance shutdown)
  • 600-MW Masinloc (boiler leak)
  • 600-MW Calaca (maintenance shutdown)
  • 500-MW San Lorenzo plant owned by First Gen Corp (under maintenance shutdown)
  • 100-MW Binga (maintenance shutdown)
  • 20-MW Bacman 4 (maintenance shutdown)
  • 20-MW Makban 7 (maintenance shutdown)
Total: 5,240-MW

Plant maintenance for elections

On March 1, the culprits, according to Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, were several power plants simultaneously undergoing repairs or dealing with various supply concerns. He added El Nino as another factor for dwindling water levels, which affected the generating capacity of hydropower plants.

The timing of these plants' simultaneous maintenance shutdowns became suspicious that some groups alleged that the rotating blackouts was stage-managed to prepare mindsets of possible power disruption during the May 10 polls.

According to NGCP spokesperson Jess Sulit, the shutdowns of the power plants in Luzon was scheduled from January to April to avoid power outages during the election day.

In an interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com on Wednesday, Sulit said that the maintenance shutdown was scheduled to take place on a monthly basis to avoid any possible maintenance shutdown on the months of May and June. The schedule was an effort to assure sufficient supply for the 2010 national elections in May.

"We don't usually schedule maintenance shutdowns on the first quarter but this has to be done so that we have all plants running in the months of May and June," Sulit said in a phone interview. 

Since January, numerous big plants had been going on a scheduled maintenance shutdown, resulting in rotating blackouts in Metro Manila and some areas in Luzon.

However, some plants are going off-line due to sudden technical problems like boiler leaks and feedwater pump problems, like San Miguel-owned 1,200-MW Sual plants.