Luzon faces 2 weeks of rotating blackouts

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 07 2010 07:38 PM | Updated as of Apr 08 2010 04:50 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Power outages in Luzon will continue for the next 2 weeks but will not affect the country's first nationwide automated elections on May 10, the Department of Energy said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, several power plants went off-grid due to either technical troubles attributed to the El Niño heat or to preventive maintenance procedures scheduled to start this week. The resulting power shortfall of 662 megawatts caused the 1- to 2-hour rotational blackouts on Wednesday, energy officials explained. 

In a press conference, acting Energy Secretary Jose Ibazeta said 10 power plants are undergoing maintenance work for the next 2 weeks.

These plants include Unit 2 of the coal-fired power facility in Pagbilao, according to Greggy Romualdez, spokesperson of Team Energy, which is currently managing the operation of the Quezon-based plant.

Ibazeta said he has ordered independent power producers to finish all rehabilitation and maintenance work 2 weeks before the elections to ensure that power plants are at peak capacity before the May 10 nationwide polls.

"Normally, we conduct maintenance work in April to May but since we don't want any of the power plants to break down during the elections, we scheduled it earlier," he said.

It's the heat

Two power plants in Luzon--Unit 2 of Sual power plant in Pangasinan and the Sta. Rita plant in Bulacan--experienced technical difficulties.

The Philippine Independent Power Producers Association (PIPPA) admitted that power plants are more prone to break down during the hot season, which aggravated the current power crisis.

"Our cooling systems are not as efficient during the hot season. At the same time, all the plants are running flat out, meaning at full maximum capacity, so you can expect from time to time that [there might be breakdowns]," PIPPA president Ernie Pantangco said. 

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines website showed that Luzon is experiencing a power shortfall of 662 megawatts during peak load hours, exceeding even the 538-megawatt shortfall in Mindanao .

Guillermo Redoblado, NGCP senior technical adviser, said an increase in electricity demand has aggravated the energy crisis in Luzon. He said peak demand in Luzon increased from 6,802 megawatts to 6,864 megawatts in the morning; 6,963 megawatts to 7,019 megawatts in the afternoon; and 6,613 megawatts to 6,746 megawatts in the evening.

Power retailer Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said the power shortage has forced the company to implement the rotational blackouts. "To balance supply and demand, we are forced to do load sharing and remove power from some areas," said Joe Zaldarriaga, Meralco external corporate communications manager.

5- to 8-hour Mindanao blackouts continue

Ibazeta, meanwhile, said Mindanao will continue to experience 5 to 8 hours of blackouts until June due to a massive energy shortfall. He added, however, that power supply in the whole of Mindanao will not be disrupted from May 9 to May 11.

The DOE chief said the department will commission outsourced generator sets to augment the existing capacities of local plants by about 100 megawatts. He said he is also implementing a "deloading" program among industries, malls and other big commercial facilities in the region during the three-day election period.

Ibazeta added that gradual stocking of water in the Lanao dams will be paced leading to the critical election days.

The new DOE chief allayed fears of a failure of elections in Mindanao as he voiced confidence that the region's power requirement would be met despite the power shortage caused primarily by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

He said beyond the short-term May election contingency plan, his agency has been discussing with stakeholders medium and long-term solutions to the power crisis in Mindanao.

"What we have to do in the long-term really is to make it attractive for foreign investors to come in so we are looking, in discussions with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), the appropriate rate of returns that would entice investors," Ibazeta said.