How low power supply looms over elections


Posted at Feb 24 2022 08:31 AM

Photo source: Pexels [LINK OUT
Photo source: Pexels

A new report by the non-government group Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) predicts that lack of energy supply in the Luzon grid is probable this summer. 

This is in line with the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) warning Filipinos as early as January that there might be thin operating margins due to increased electricity demand in the summer months (April to June). While this does not exactly mean that blackouts are guaranteed to happen, forecasts show that there are inadequate reserves should demand increase or one of the power plants fail. And despite the NGCP's optimistic projections, ICSC anticipates that there will be a deficit in supply, which can lead to another red alert status and potential blackouts. 

Why should this issue concern Filipinos? Apart from 2021's blackouts causing major inconveniences and income loss, not to mention having no electricity during the hot weather makes things difficult, the National Elections will be happening on May 9 and its automated operations are largely reliant on a stable source of electricity. 

NGCP Spokesperson Cynthia Alabanza said in an interview that energy demand on that particular day may be low because it is a holiday. However, she also mentioned that unforeseen circumstances such as unscheduled maintenance and forced outages could affect the power supply, thereby causing power outages. 

According to the Grid Operating Maintenance Program, there should be no power plants undergoing maintenance at this time, and in the best-case scenario, the power supply should be sufficient. But last year's outages due to unscheduled maintenance and unplanned shutdowns should serve as a warning that the unexpected can happen and there should be backups in place.

Unreliable electricity supply would undermine the credibility of the elections and at such a critical point in time, Filipinos deserve to have clean and fair elections.

Lawmakers have already called for the Department of Energy (DOE) to reassure the country that there will be adequate supply as blackouts during this period can compromise the integrity of the elections. Lawmakers such as Senator Risa Hontiveros and Representative Fidel Nograles have proposed tapping renewable energy solutions to help solve this issue. 

''Increased demand for power during our hotter months, and reduced supply during these same dry months is an annual occurrence, and as System Operator and Grid Operator, the NGCP is very much aware of this cycle,'' DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi said in a statement. ''The DOE is spearheading efforts to bring the power industry together to work toward a wholistic solution. The NGCP is expected to perform their responsibilities that contribute to the adequacy of supply, and more so this year as we will be holding national elections this summer.''

Since 2010, the Philippines has had an Election Power Task Force headed by the DOE that ''ensures that there is adequate, stable, and reliable power supply before, during, and after the national and local elections.'' 

Despite these reassurances, people are asking leaders to come up with a concrete plan to avoid giving inconveniences to consumers in the summer months and to safeguard the integrity of the upcoming national polls. 

This is not a new issue as Secretary Cusi has mentioned that it is an annual occurrence that power demand is higher and supply is reduced during the dry season. However, as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Energy Senator Sherwin Gatchalian pointed out, none of the organizations handling the country's electricity have yet to enforce solutions that will address the power outages occurring every year during this period. 

ICSC in its report also mentioned that this repeating issue can no longer keep happening every year, which is why an energy transition with varied energy sources is needed. Majority of the country's power comes from coal-fired power plants, the same plants that have caused outages last year due to insufficient supply and unplanned shutdowns.The issue of sufficient and stable power supply needs to be taken seriously and addressed adequately. This coming election is an opportunity for citizens to elect leaders that will help provide reliable, stable, and cheaper electricity all year round.

Shifting faster to decentralized renewable energy would greatly increase the country's energy security. In the meantime, ICSC recommends that the installation of rooftop solar be expedited, and that consumers also minimize electricity consumption during peak hours. This is aside from ensuring the availability of power plants at their full dependable capacities, as well as the timely completion of all committed power projects. 

As said by ICSC senior policy adviser and former National Renewable Energy Board chair Atty. Pedro Maniego Jr., "Unreliable electricity supply would undermine the credibility of the elections. We need our electrical power system to provide reliable supply especially during election day and while transmitting data, otherwise our political power system might fail if the results are not accepted by our people." 

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