MANILA - The Philippines' House of Representatives approved late on Wednesday a resolution granting President Benigno Aquino emergency powers to avert a possible electricity shortage starting March next year.
But Aquino will still have to wait for a similar move by the Senate before he can use the extra powers to address the projected power deficiency that could result in rolling brownouts on the main Luzon island, home to more than half of the country's 100 million people and big businesses.
Aquino had sought a joint resolution from Congress as early as September to allow the government to enter into short-term power supply deals with the private sector.
"We are playing safe," House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, an Aquino ally, told reporters after the lower chamber's move.
Some lawmakers and advocacy and business groups are worried that government involvement in power generation will push power prices higher.
Belmonte said the House wanted to ensure that the Aquino administration would not be blamed if the country plunges into a power crisis next year.
The government is also counting on businesses with diesel-fed power generators to avert brownouts. As of Dec. 5, a total of 141 companies have committed to take part in the government's Interruptible Load Program (ILP).
Under the ILP, participants with loads of at least 1 megawatt each agree to run their own generator sets, if needed, instead of drawing power from the Luzon grid.
Those who have already signed up have a combined capacity of 593 MW, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
In October, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla said Luzon needed as much as 600 MW of additional supply before March, and warned that the rolling outages could last until July.
The DOE has extended by one month the deadline to sign up for the ILP to Dec. 31.
Some 16,400 MW of new supply is planned in the country over the next five years to meet growing demand, but some projects have been held up by environmental opposition to coal-fired stations, while others are waiting for customers to commit to long-term supply deals.
Energy World Corp Ltd said in October the DOE had asked it to speed up the commissioning of its 650 MW LNG-fired power plant in Pagbilao province in Luzon. The Australia-listed company told Reuters it was looking to start generating 400 MW from the plant early next year.