The Mindanao power situation: Finding fault or finding solutions? PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 05 November 2011 15:28

By EDWIN G. ESPEJO

With brownouts again becoming a regular occurrence in Mindanao, expect the debate on energy sources to intensify.

But it is wrong for advocates of renewable energies to accuse about everybody of contriving a power crisis to justify the construction of fossil-fired power plants.

Those who insist that there is no shortage of power supply or even refuse to acknowledge that two or three years from now Mindanao will suffer tremendously due to power outages are doing the people in the island even greater disservice.  Ignoring the present precarious balance of the island’s power supply could lead into laying out wrong solutions and relegate the Mindanao power situation into endless debates about long-term and strategic alternatives that do not give immediate relief to the people.

There is no doubt the path to clean and steady power supply is renewable energy.

Anybody who says otherwise can only be motivated by greed first, public service only second.

But as someone who always looks at things in their proper perspectives, it will always be looking at Mindanao’s energy crisis not solely caused by lack of generating capacities or renewable energy sources.

In fact, Mindanao has exceeded the 50-percent renewable energy source index with over 1,000 megawatts of installed capacities from the Agus and Pulangi River hydropower plant complexes and the 105-megawatt Mt. Apo Geothermal Plant.

Yet, Mindanao still suffers and will continue to suffer from recurring brownouts because no new capacities have been commissioned for the Mindanao grid since 2006, when the 210-MW coal-fired power plant of STEAG in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental went into commercial stream.

The Agus River hydropower plant complex could no longer deliver the 700-MW or so installed capacity in full because of antiquated facilities and aging turbines.  The Pulangi hydropower plant is operating at least 20-percent less of its installed capacity (255MW) due to heavy silt.  These two hydropower plants are only operating at a combined capacity of 600 megawatts out of possible 900MW.

The National Power Corporation (NPC) also lost 215MW of power source when it sold PB 117 and PB118 to the Aboitiz-owned Therma Marine Inc.  That is 215 megawatts off the Mindanao grid.

The Iligan Diesel Power Plant is operating at half its 100MW installed capacity due to neglect and poor maintenance schedule.  It is now owned by the Iligan City government.

In effect, only roughly 600 megawatts of hydro energy are available from NPC to service its Mindanao grid from where most electric cooperatives and distribution utilities are sourcing their power supply requirement.  The rest of the 1,300MW actual power supply demand for the island are sourced from independent power producers (IPPs) such as the diesel-power Southern Philippines Power Plant (55MW), the Western Mindanao Power Plant (100MW), and STEAG.

Distribution utilities are now forced to buy whatever shortfall of supply from NPC and IPPs.  In the case of the South Cotabato II Electric Cooperative, it entered into supply contract with Therma Marine for additional 18 megawatts for the next three years after NPC reduced its supply to the distribution cooperative by 30 megawatts.  Davao Light and Power Corporation also bought all 40 megawatts of hydro energy generated by its sister company Hedcor in Sibulan, Davao del Sur.

Mindanao used to enjoy decades of cheap and reliable power supply from hydro sources when the Agus River Complex was built and commissioned in the 1960s and onwards.

The island’s development, however, is one that was never static.  By the late 1980s, the Agus River could no longer serve the power needs of the islands.
In the early 1990s, Mindanao plunged into darkness as demand far outstripped the supply.

Then President Fidel Ramos allowed independent power producers to buy power barges and construct diesel power plants to augment and fill the gap in power demand NPC could no longer supply.

Eventually, the Arroyo administration passed Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 to rationalize the power industry.  The law effectively dismantled the monopoly of NPC and stripped the latter of its power to generate power capacities.

This opened up the energy industry to the private sector.

NPC’s transmission operation was also privatized (now the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines).
The IPPs brought temporary relief for consumers in Mindanao.

But it did not last long. — Edwin G. Espejo writes for www.asiancorrespondent.com