Possible blackout looms over 2010 elections

By Leilani Chavez, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Sep 16 2009 09:31 AM | Updated as of Sep 16 2009 05:46 PM

The 2010 national elections might be done in the dark, as the looming energy shortage is expected to rear its ugly head, not in 2012, but much earlier.

This was possibility was raised as lawmakers discussed the impending energy shortage with energy chief Angelo Reyes on Tuesday, September 15, during the deliberations on the budget of the energy department and its attached agencies.

According to Reyes, the country needs 4,100 megawatts (MW) in additional capacity by 2010 to address all its energy needs. Reyes further said that with the sharp cut in the department’s proposed budget, it might be unable to address a possible energy crisis.

Capacity shortfall

Quoting data from DOE, Reyes told the body that the Visayas has already been experiencing brown-outs since 2008 due to a 500MW shortage. Mindanao currently lacks 600MW while Luzon is slated to experience a 3,000mw energy shortfall in 2010.
 
"We are faced with several problems. Renewable energy helps but it is not enough," Reyes said when asked how the department intends to augment the shortage.
 
Likewise, Reyes said the government is highly dependent on private corporations as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001 "does not allow the government to put up additional power generating capacities."
 
Cagayan de Oro representative Rufus Rodriguez floated the idea of amending the EPIRA in order to allow the government to put up plants to solve the impending energy crisis.
 
"We might need to amend the law because we are at the mercy of investors who are probably waiting for the energy sector to collapse so they can receive the same emergency privileges given through the IPPs," Rodriguez said.
 
Onerous IPP (Independent Power Plant) contracts were given out during the Ramos administration as an emergency response to solve the energy crisis. From 1990 to 1994, the country has experienced black-outs. The contracts with the IPPs were eventually blamed for the current high power rates in the country.
 
Possible energy emergency

 
But there are still options left for the administration. Reyes clarified that there is a provision in the Sec. 71 of EPIRA which allows the government to put up power plants in emergency situations or when there is "imminent shortage" in power.

Asked by lawmakers whether the situation already calls for a declaration of an energy emergency, however, Reyes said he cannot give such recommendation yet as he will still have to discuss the matter with the president.
 
The declaration of an energy emergency is the president’s prerogative, Reyes explained.

After an energy emergency is declared, Congress will be asked to pass a resolution to allow the government to put up plants.
 
Contingency plan
 
Reyes further told the committee that the DOE has already prepared a contingency plan for the potential energy crisis.
 
The contingency plan is a composed of the department’s initiatives to improve the power generating capacity of already available plants.
 
Reyes clarified that the said plan “does not connote putting up power plants” but instead focused on “leasing and increasing the capacities of available power plants.”
 
“But the contingency plan needs funding,” Reyes stressed out. He told lawmakers that the department needs P1.5 billion this year and an additional P1.7 billion in 2010 to fund the contingency plan.
 
The allocation for the contingency plan is not included in the current proposed budget of the department.
 
The total proposed obligations for the energy department will decrease in 2010 to P4.1 billion from P4.8 billion—a difference of almost a billion pesos.

Executive session
 
The “worrisome” condition of the energy sector prompted the body to call for an executive meeting. An executive meeting is a closed door discussion between the lawmakers and the party involved.
 
The move, however, was questioned by Parañaque representative Roilo Golez. He quoted Sec. 7 of the House Rules on Congressional Inquiry which states that an executive session should be done only in instances when there is a possible "threat to national security."
 
Emil Ong, 2nd district representative from Northern Samar, reasoned that the energy situation is “critical” and “has an impact in national security” because of the upcoming national elections next year.
 
Further, Appropriations committee chair Junie Cua told lawmakers that, although the rules on congressional inquiry mandated executive sessions in discussions that have bearings on national security, the House Rules did not limit the use of executive meetings.
 
The hearing was suspended on this note. When session resumed, the motion for an executive meeting was temporarily lifted.

Lawmakers instead agreed to have another special meeting with the energy department to discuss the matter. – abs-cbnNEWS.com