'84 days of power interruptions expected by 2014'

By Philexport News and Features, The Philippine Star

Posted at Nov 21 2011 07:23 AM | Updated as of Nov 21 2011 06:22 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The electric power crisis that is now gripping Mindanao is now in its first stage in Luzon with power interruptions reaching five days a year in 2010 and the same days this year.

By the year 2014, crippling outages in the main island will peak at 84 days if no new power plants are built soon.

This is one of the main findings of study made by a team of engineers from the University of the Philippines’ National Engineering Center, a summary of which was presented to the energy committee of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) the other day.

The study, piloted by engineering professors R. del Mundo and Edna Espos, focused on the electric power situations in the three major regions, Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao and assessed the impact of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) enacted in 2001 or 10 years ago.

“The Luzon grid has already entered the first stage of the power crisis,” Del Mundo told the business leaders led by Federation of Philippine Industries chairman Meneleo Carlos and PCCI mainstay Donald Dee.

“The outlook for the coming years is not encouraging because the first power plant, (600 megawatt coal-fired plant in Mariveles, Bataan) being built after 10 years of EPIRA is even smaller than the expected additional demand due to population and economic growth” the UP engineering professor explained.

To stop the crisis from worsening, Luzon immediately needs a 200-megawatt plant to meet demand during peak hours of electric use. This should be put on stream by 2013. Another baseload plant with 600-megawatt capacity must also be built soonest to be ready for connection to the Luzon grid by 2015.

A peak-hour plant, which is often a conventional, oil-fired generator, takes at least one year to build, while bigger baseload plants including those fueled by coal take between three and five years to construct. Hydro-electric power plants like the one in San Roque, San Manuel, Pangasinan started by President Ramos takes even more years to build.

The Visayas, one the other hand, will have ample supply of electricity until 2016 while Mindanao, which is now suffering daily power outages, immediately needs 600 megawatts of additional electric power. The electricity shortage in the southern island will reach 20 percent of peak demand by next year.

Although many local and foreign investors had shown interest in betting their money on new power plants, the study found that the Manila Electric Co.(Meralco), the biggest electricity distributor in Luzon, has hesitated at entering into long-term supply contracts with power plant developers.

The EPIRA law has accomplished little in achieving its main goals of getting more investors to enter the power generating business, and in providing adequate and dependable power supply to consumers at affordable rates, the study concluded.

Reacting to the presentation, Carlos suggested that the Aquino government must immediately operationalize open access to big consumers while waiting for retail competition so they can start negotiating their supply of electricity before the crisis gets too deep.

This can be done through an executive order issued by the energy czar or the President himself.