Special powers eyed for Noy on blackouts

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 27 2012 06:42 AM | Updated as of Mar 27 2012 06:10 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Administration lawmakers said yesterday President Aquino might call a special session so Congress could grant him emergency powers to allow him to swiftly resolve the worsening power situation in Mindanao.

Aquino, meanwhile, appealed to the public to give the government more time to solve the power crisis. He said the solutions could not be undertaken overnight as the problem had been neglected by previous administrations.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, warned of more economic losses and damage to the image of the Philippines before the investor community if the widespread blackouts in Mindanao would continue.

“The situation could be considered urgent and critical that needs swift action from the President,” he said. “Many of us in the administration bloc are willing to support moves to grant the President emergency powers if necessary.”

Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco, vice chairman of the House committee on small business and entrepreneurship development, and Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez also supported calls to give Aquino more muscle to address the power crisis in Mindanao.

“We cannot just flick our fingers and command the Department of Energy (DOE) to correct the imbalance between demand and supply of energy. This administration is barely two years old and the Mindanao energy problem has been there since three decades ago,” Haresco said.

He said it would take at least two years to rehabilitate a power plant and many years – including four years for government approval processes – to build one from the ground up.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, who earlier warned that the power crisis could be artificial, supported the calls of his colleagues “provided that it is clear why it (emergency powers) is needed.”

Nograles said “all data and information on the Mindanao power shortage would come from the executive branch” and it would be up to lawmakers to decide whether granting Aquino special powers is warranted.

“The DOE (Department of Energy) earlier stated that the situation was manageable unless the situation has changed, then we have to reassess,” he said.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño earlier proposed a government takeover of privatized power barges in Mindanao as an immediate step to address the power crisis in the region.

“It appears that there is enough power supply in Mindanao. The problem is that it is too expensive so the power distributors are not buying for fear of going bankrupt,” Casiño said.

P-Noy: Looking for right solutions

Speaking at the birthday party of Imus Rep. Erineo Maliksi on Sunday, President Aquino said that the government had started working on the rehabilitation of the Agus hydropower complex in Mindanao.

The National Power Corp. (Napocor) said the P2.6- billion upgrading project for Units 1 and 2 of Agus 6 would not only increase their generating capacity to 69 megawatts from the current 20 MW but also extend the economic life of the generators by 30 years.

The President said billions, not “thousands or millions,” would be needed to repair the Agus hydropower complex.

“The parts for that, like a light bulb in the house, (are) good but there will come a time that it will burn out,” he said.

Aquino said the Agus hydropower plants were built in 1953 and had been running for the last 59 years when the parts were only good for 30 years.

“In short, we need to fix that. I just thought, 30 years ago I just graduated from college… they should have fixed that so it’s no longer a problem now. It needs 30 months to be repaired. The machines are huge and must be improved,” he said.

The President said the power being generated in Mindanao was not enough to meet demand and that the distributors were also selling more than what they contracted.

He said power barges were temporary solutions but the crude oil for them would be expensive and thus the people would have to share the burden if they did not want blackouts to continue.

Aquino said Mindanao residents will have to bear higher costs of electricity while the coal-fired power plants were being built, and these would become operational in two years or by 2014.

He acknowledged the power outage at the Zamboanga International Airport that led to the cancellation of flights but stressed, “I did not promise that in two days everything will already be in place. It’s not just like changing a light bulb. We are going to replace components in a hydroelectric dam.”

As regards the coal-fired plants, Aquino said the development would also take time.

He said he might again be criticized for the problem, but stressed that he was attending to it along with many other concerns of the country.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the problem had been anticipated in 2010, that is why Energy Secretary Rene Almendras sought investments for non-hydro plants, specifically coal-fired power plants.

Lacierda said there were various recommendations submitted to the President on how to address the problem.

He said Mindanao Development Authority chair Luwalhati Antonino could push through with her investigation on whether the power crisis was artificial but they would rather focus on the solutions.

Lacierda said mixing various sources of power from barges and hydro plants could make electricity costs lower.

He said Almendras also talked with the electric cooperatives to have mandatory rationing – meaning stopping the use of power at certain times as well as equitable distribution to ensure that those at the end of the line would still have supply.

“But it will depend on the people of Mindanao if they are willing to cooperate with the energy authority,” Lacierda said. – Aurea Calica