power interruptions in the Philippines

Solutions sought as Western Visayas power outages draw ire from politicians, businesses

Francis Allan Angelo

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Solutions sought as Western Visayas power outages draw ire from politicians, businesses

Richmonde Hotel-Iloilo in Mandurriao, Iloilo City sees a surge in guests since the blackouts.

Francis Allan Angelo/Rappler

Western Visayas politicians and businesses call for answers and solutions to the power outages as people seek shelter from the sweltering heat

The Iloilo City Business Development Council (ICBDC) called for immediate action to address the recurring issue of brownouts which are significantly impacting businesses in Iloilo City and the rest of Western Visayas.

Terence Uygongco ICDBC co-chairperson, said in a statement the relentless occurrence of brownouts has become a matter of grave concern for the business community in Iloilo City.

“These disruptions in power supply have resulted in operational challenges, financial losses, and a tarnished reputation for our city as a reliable business destination. As such, it is imperative that we join forces to tackle this issue head-on,” Uygongco added.

The council proposed the following actions to address the problem:

  1. Identification of root causes: We will conduct a comprehensive investigation to determine the underlying reasons for the frequent brownouts. This analysis will enable us to develop targeted and effective solutions to prevent future occurrences.
  2. Collaboration with stakeholders: We will actively engage in dialogue with power suppliers, businesses, and relevant government agencies. By fostering collaboration and sharing expertise, we aim to explore and implement strategies that enhance infrastructure, promote energy efficiency, and establish robust contingency plans to mitigate the impact of brownouts.
  3. Advocacy for policy changes: We will work closely with local policymakers and regulatory bodies to advocate for policy changes that prioritize a reliable and affordable power supply. This includes streamlining licensing procedures for power generation projects, encouraging private sector investments, and fostering healthy competition within the power sector.

“The Iloilo City Business Development Council emphasizes the urgency of this matter and urges all stakeholders to actively participate in our efforts to find immediate and lasting solutions. We firmly believe that by working together, we can create a resilient and conducive business environment that ensures the sustained growth and success of Iloilo City,” Uygongco said.

Among those affected by the blackouts since Thursday were restaurants and personal care services which did not have generator sets.

One spa in Mandurriao, Iloilo said they have cancelled their bookings since Thursday due to a lack of electricity. The management estimated that they lost between P15,000 to P20,000 daily as a result of the 3-day closure.

A restaurant owner said they only operated for 4 to 6 hours a day due to the lack of customers, who preferred malls where there was air conditioning.

A machine shop and laundry operator said the intermittent power supply also forced them to cancel some work, and have been closed since Friday.

But some businesses like hotels are “doing well” as many Ilonggos booked rooms to avoid the searing heat amid the blackouts.

One hotel in Mandurriao district said they have been overbooked since Friday. They tried referring some guests to other hotels in the city but these were also overbooked.

Grand Xing Imperial hotel in City Proper district announced that they are fully booked since Friday.

On Friday, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas of allowed all City Hall employees to take an early out due to the ongoing power outage.

“We understand that this outage is causing inconvenience and disruption at work. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as necessary,” he added.

Prior to that, Treñas said that the ongoing blackout has a significant impact on the community, including economic losses.

“It’s important for the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) to provide an explanation for these incidents. We need to understand why these happen, what is being done to resolve the issue, and what measures are being taken to prevent future outages,” he said.

In another statement, Treñas said he’s unhappy with the way NGCP is conducting business in the Western Visayas region.

“Unannounced power interruptions for more than 5 to 6 hours are causing havoc to the economy of the City. Businesses are affected and even government offices are closed due to the extreme heat. NGCP should explain why these brownouts are happening and what they are doing to prevent the same,” he said.

The local chief executive added that he already requested for a face-to-face meeting with NGCP on the almost daily brownouts on the second week of May.

“I have relayed this request to Anthony Almeda of NGCP. I will request the members of the City Council, business community, MORE Power and Panay Energy Development Corp. to attend the said meeting . It will be open to the media. Cynthia Abalanza, head of NGCP’s public relations department, reached out to me to let me know they are ready to attend the meeting with the City Council and business community and members of media,” he said.

As the power outages persisted, Treñas askd all congressional representatives of the affected districts to heed their constituents and call for a congressional investigation on the root cause of these unscheduled power interruptions.

“Our people must be satisfied with the explanations,” he said.

He also called on all sectors – lawyers, doctors, businessmen, academe, religious, students, and all professionals – to join him in demanding that pertinent government officials do what they can to resolve these power problems affecting Panay, Guimaras, and parts of negros Occidental.

“Let us all demand and file whatever is needed to get all government agency tasked to attend to our power needs to get out of their air-conditioned offices and their air-conditioned cars and do what they are supposed to do and provide power to us – we also pay our bills no matter how expensive they are – thus, we have the right to demand proper action,” he said.

By Saturday, Treñas said he’s been in touch with MORE Power, Iloilo City’s sole power distributor, and Panay Power Corporation.

“NGCP is saying that there is nothing with the systems of the grid, Panay Power is saying there is nothing wrong with the power plants and the problem is with the grid. MORE Power is telling me the problem is with the grid. NGCP should now study their system and see what they can do in the short term,” he said.

Without doing a proper investigation since one is not possible at this time, considering that more power and PPC are both saying that NGCP is at fault, Treñas said it is now incumbent for NGCP to find ways and means to resolve the issue at the most expedient time to help Panay.

“The whole of panay and all the people therein are most affected now,” he said.

‘Islanding’ operations

Uswag Ilonggo party-list Rep. James “Jojo” Ang Jr urged the Department of Energy, the Energy Regulatory Commission, and other energy sector stakeholders such as the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, power producers, and distributors to come together and come up with immediate solutions to the 3-day massive blackouts that hit Panay, Guimaras and Negros Islands (Western Visayas).

In a statement, Ang said he is concerned with the health of ordinary consumers who suffer from the summer heat and the small business owners who have been forced to close shop.

He also noted the risk of fire incidents also increases with the erratic power supply situation.

“The sudden surge in electricity in the houses of ordinary consumers could lead to short circuits or other problems that could start a fire in this hot season,” Rep. Ang added.

While he supports calls for congressional probes on the blackout, Ang said stakeholders must come up with immediate solutions.

Rep. Ang said he proposes that electric cooperatives and power distributors be allowed to resort to islanding operations or drawing electricity from the nearest power plants without passing though the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines or NGCP.

“Apparently, the problem is with NGCP, and we need immediate solutions. Maybe in the meantime, we can directly draw power from our power plants in Panay to ease the suffering of our ordinary consumers,” he added.

The lawmaker said they can also revisit and amend the Electric Power Industry Reform Act to make it more flexible and attuned to realities and needs of the three major grids in the country.

He also urged local government unit officials and Congressional leaders from Region 6 to unite and find common short and long-term solutions.

“Now is the time to come together for the ordinary Ilonggos who are now suffering the most,” he said.

But Engr. Miguel Paguntalan, general manager of Iloilo Electric Cooperative I, said in a press conference that the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira Law) prohibits them from skirting NGCP when drawing power from generators.

“The law does not allow us to directly contract and draw power from power plants. Everything must go through the grid operated by NGCP,” Paguntalan said.

James Balsomo, Ileco III general manager, said his “official and personal” stand is to amend the Republic Act No. 9136 (Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001) to give them more flexibility in case the Visayas grid conks out again.

“Panay Island is the tail-end of the Visayas grid. We have no alternate connections. That’s why we proposed looping in our distribution system, that in case there’s problem in one substation, we can get from another feeder,” Balsomo said.

ILECO II General Manager Redmond Roquios said he would also support the amendments to RA 9136, to avoid similar occurrences to happen in the future.

“We are blank as to how the system had a total collapse. When the system collapses, coal plants would still have to take time to get back in the system. To be frank, we cannot answer [what time] electricity would be back to normal, because we are also dependent on NGCP,” Roquios added. – Rappler.com

Francis Allan Angelo is an Iloilo-based grantee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.

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