'Brownout scenario possible as early as March'

by Jon Carlos Rodriguez, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Feb 20 2015 06:23 PM | Updated as of Feb 21 2015 08:32 PM

MANILA – A possible rotating brownout scenario in the Luzon grid may occur as early as March due to the expected peak in demand and deficiency in supply caused by the shutdown of several power plants, based on projections by Lopez-led First Gen Corporation.

Carlo Vega, First Gen’s assistant vice president for regulatory and business development, said reserve levels are projected to be thinnest during the months of March, April and July this year.

Luzon consumers may experience rotating brownouts, ranging from 1 to 2 hours to 6 to 13 hours in a day for two weeks in the months of March, April and July, according to Vega.

However, he noted that the longest possible duration of brownouts in a single household may only reach up to 3 hours. The 6- to 13-hour range, he explained, will split and rotated in different areas, and will not affect the entire Luzon grid.

“There is just a range, but the warning sign is here: we have a real supply problem,” Vega said in a briefing on Friday.

He said there is a “huge possibility” of brownouts particularly from March 1 to 14 as demand starts to pick up because of the summer season.

There will be an expected peak demand of 8,600 megawatts, but supply is only at 8,500MW.

“Our demand starts to pick up starting March, and if you look at the existing supply that is made available to the grid, the tightness in supply will be felt starting March 1 and that will continue until July because there will be a series of plant maintenance outages and demand starts to pick up and will peak during May,” he said.

A total of 1,200 megawatts are lost from the Luzon grid because of the shutdown of the Ilijan and GN Power plants. The Malampaya natural gas facility is also scheduled to undergo a maintenance shutdown starting March 15.

“The demand is already expected to reach more than 8,000 megawatts, and if you look at the available supply, there are still plants that are out today, and we expect that to extend over that March 1 to 14 period,” said Vega.

3 scenarios

Vega explained that there are three possible scenarios for power supply during the critical months of March, April and July: the best case scenario is that rotating brownouts will only occur 1 to 2 hours a day in a span of only one week in selected areas.

This will happen if there are no forced outages from baseload plants; no extension of planned outages; minimal effect of El Nino; and the interruptible load program of 350MW is implemented.

The worst case is that there will be rotating brownouts of 6 to 13 hours a day for 2 weeks. The worst case scenario occurs if two baseload plants are on forced outage; and the effect of El Nino is the same as in 2010.

Vega said if brownouts do occur, it may only happen during the peak days of Tuesdays to Thursdays.

“You don’t expect brownouts during weekends,” he said.

Vega said the firm's projections are based on historical data as well as compiled data from the NGCP and Philippine Electricity Market Corporation.

The Department of Energy has also warned consumers of possible two-hour rotating brownouts for two weeks in March.

Conserve power
To help maintain the reserve levels in this critical period, Vega advised consumers to conserve electricity during peak hours of the day at 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and at 4 p.m.-8 p.m.

“You can start by saving electricity, you try to shift your activities during non-peak hours of the day,” he said.

He also cited that if power is turned off for at least one hour a day, as seen during past “Earth Hour” exercises, about 150MW-180MW of power is saved.

“If the same ‘Earth Hour’ is applied on peak hours, then theoretically you can half the deficiency, or even prevent it, if everybody cooperates like during Earth Hour,” he said.

Vega also said the ILP can wipe out the expected supply deficiency of about 70MW to 350MW if it is implemented properly.

“If all of them participate and are remunerated properly and all mechanisms are put in place, then we might not even see those brownouts happening…if the ILP is executed properly,” he said.

Tight supply until 2018

First Gen said its projections also showed that power shortage is still vulnerable until 2018 due to the “old age” of power plants in Luzon.

A majority of Luzon plants are aged 10 to 37 years.

“The supply associated with the country’s economic growth has to keep up and unfortunately, it is only now that new plants are being built. Hopefully, it can catch up, but I think it will only catch up sometime in the 2018-2019 period,” First Gen president Francis Giles Puno said in the same briefing.

He said this year’s scenario will likely occur in 2016 as demand continues to grow.

“In all likelihood, because the demand in 2016 will continue to grow and you also have an election year. Sometimes what I understand is that in an election year, demand goes up as well. So you have the steady growth of the economy, plus an election year factor, I think 2016 could be a very tight period,” he said.

“I don’t think we’re off the hook, we really need new capacities being built, and the right capacity is being built,” he added.

Puno said First Gen is expected to add a capacity of 100MW to the Luzon grid through its Avion plant in Batangas, which is expected to go online in May. Another 440MW will be added through its San Gabriel plant in 2016.

The San Gabriel facilities are looking to add a capacity of over 800MW by 2017, he added.

Government, meanwhile, is implementing several short-term measures to address the expected shortage for the summer of 2015, including the activation of ILP; and the creation of a special Malampaya fund for ILP expenses.

Government is also fast-tracking the process of giving permits via temporary suspension or by facilitated issuance of certifications, permits, and licenses for power projects.