Gov’t creates body to address Mindanao power crisis

David Yu Santos
Sectors warn against a repeat of the 2010 brownouts in the region

SOLVING A CRISIS. The Aquino administration vows to find solutions to the Mindanao energy crisis and put into place sustainable power supply for the region.

MANILA, Philippines – To help prevent another energy crisis in Mindanao, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) has created a special committee tasked to put in place sustainable power supply for the Southern Philippines.

The Neda Board’s Regional Development Committee (RDCom) formed the Special Committee for Mindanao Power, mandating it to come up with recommendations that would address the region’s energy problems, particularly its limited generating capacity and dependency on hydropower.

“The RDCom discussed Mindanao’s power supply and demand outlook to come up with concrete recommendations to avert the power shortage in the near future,” said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cayetano W. Paderanga Jr.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who chairs the RDCom Area Committee for Mindanao, was chosen to head the special committee and organize it.

Mindanao’s power demand is expected to grow at an annual rate of 4.56%, from 2011 to 2030, according to a recent RDCom report. Demand is projected to exceed existing generation capacity by 2013 unless additional power capacity is created.

Mindanao’s heavy reliance on hydro-power sources, which constitute half of the generation mix of the region, makes its power supply vulnerable to droughts and decreasing water levels in watersheds.

2010 power crisis

In 2010, the Mindanao grid was placed on “red alert” after its power deficiency reached critical level, forcing the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) to implement load curtailment in the entire region.

As a result, major provinces and cities were forced to resort to long hours of power outage, crippling business operations. Back then, Mindanao had 820 MW available capacity versus a peak demand of 1,210 MW.

Hydroelectric plants that generated 70% of the island’s power supply had to be shut down since most the plants’ water reservoirs had dried up due to the El Niño phenomenon.

To ease the power crisis, lawmakers and then Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes proposed to grant emergency powers to then President Gloria Arroyo so government could buy or lease modular generator sets as an immediate solution to the Mindanao energy crisis.

But critics accused Malacañang of using the power crisis to perpetuate Mrs Arroyo in office, prompting the government to eventually abandon the plan.

The late Reyes even went around the country at time, especially Mindanao, to consult with various businessmen and stakeholders in the region who were badly affected by the power crisis.

Crisis redux

Meanwhile, former Senator Migz Zubiri warned against a repeat of the 2010 “catastrophic brownouts” in Mindanao.

Zubiri, a known political ally of Mrs Arroyo before he resigned from the Senate in August 2011, recently wrote Energy Secretary Jose Almendras, asking him to push for the provisional deployment of additional power barges to build up supply in affected areas.

Citing updated data from NGCP, Zubiri said that even if the government manages to temporarily plug Mindanao’s 124-MW shortfall, the island still faces the risk of prolonged brownouts owning to its lack of standby powers, or gross reserves.

“We have a generating capacity deficit. We not only do not have enough power to meet peak daily requirements, we also do not have any extra supplies needed to kick in once a power plant conks out for any reason, or is shut down for preventive maintenance,” Zubiri said.

In mid-February this year, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that some areas in Mindanao have been experiencing 2 to 4 hours rotating brownouts everyday, largely due to the onset of the dry months, when the water levels of the dams are depleted, affecting the hydropower plants’ ability to generate electricity.

In Zamboanga City, rotational brownouts lasting “from an hour daily to 15 hours on weekends” have caught the ire of many residents, as well as local businessmen, who are demanding for concrete action form the national government.

George Ledesma, president of the Zamboanga City Industrial Group, told Rappler that the power brownouts “will greatly affect” the operations of sardine canning companies in the city, especially with the recent order of the government lifting the ban on the fishing of ‘tamban’ or herring. At least 13 of the country’s biggest sardine factories are located in the city.

“While most of the canning firms have individual generator sets, this will mean additional fuel charges, thus may add up production costs,” Ledesma said. “But we are only consuming 15% of the city’s total power supply. You must remember that the 85% belong to residents that are plunged into darkness everyday.” –