Power crisis? Emergency powers? Try some planning, groups tell gov’t

“It seems that President Aquino and his cabinet will blame anyone and everyone except itself on the problems being encountered by the country, which they themselves were remiss in addressing. From all indications they are mind conditioning the public for a big power rate hike.” – Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The real reason why there is talk of “looming power crisis” and proposals to grant emergency powers to the president has finally been revealed.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad claimed recently that the Supreme Court’s issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan in 2012, which stopped the construction of the 600-megawatt Subic coal-fired power plant, is the reason behind the looming power crisis in 2015.

“Now it is apparent that the hyping of the power crisis issue is a mere ploy to force the resumption of the construction of the mothballed coal-fired power plant,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said in a statement.

The mothballed coal-fired power plant is under Meralco and the Aboitiz Group, whose net worth has already grown 438 percent to P124 billion ($2.84 billion) under Aquino. The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the $1.28-billion coal power plant project of Redondo Peninsula Energy (RP Energy) Inc, a consortium of energy firms composed of Manila Electric Co., Aboitiz Power and Taiwan Cogeneration Corp.

Exaggerated

When Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla first floated the proposal to give emergency powers to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III or suffer rotating brownouts, his claim was immediately met with disbelief. Figures from the Department of Energy itself belie his claim.

Doing the math based on the energy department’s reported installed capacity, dependable capacity, and predicted peak demand, shows “there should have been allowance for reserves amounting to 2,700MW,” Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares said, proving that capacity in fact exceeds Petilla’s projected 400 MW deficit, so there is no shortage.

Lourd Honesto (not his real name), an executive in the power industry, told Bulatlat.com that Petilla’s description of the situation as a crisis is “exaggerated,” saying it is normal to have shortages during summer, but if managed well such as implementing proper scheduling of plant maintenance shutdowns, the usual summer shortage will easily be attended to.

Scheduling plant shutdowns can be done even without emergency powers, Honesto said, adding that it is “too drastic to ask for emergency powers when other measures can be put in place.”

The Philippines already has a good profile of power plants – it has hydropower plants, geothermal plants, coal-fired and oil-fired plants. The biggest energy generator, the base loader plants which are constantly running, take four days to shut down, necessitating its scheduling to take peak demand in mind. Honesto explained that it is in scheduling maintenance shutdowns especially of base loader plants that the government needs to truly manage and coordinate the schedule well. The first thing to ensure is not to time the maintenance shutdown on months that historically register peak demands.

“Because demand is unpredictable and we need to meet peak demands, we need peaking plants — small plants such as those run by diesel, generator sets, and sometimes, small hydropower plants, which we have a lot of, but are privately owned, “ Honesto said. The problem crops up when these small plants historically relied on to run to meet emergency or peaking demand, either refuse to run or fail to run when needed the most.

Honesto said some plants are conking out, indeed, due to maintenance problems or to its being old, but there is still no big shortage warranting emergency powers looming in the horizon because even this (reported conking out) can be attended to with proper maintenance and management. Besides, new power plants have been entering the market. The Batangas coal plant of the Ayala Group is one of the more recent ones. The Aboitiz Group is also opening more new plants as well as expanding capacity over the next five years.

Government irresponsibility

Anakpawis Partylist criticized the seeming irresponsibility and laziness of the government in handling the country’s power requirements.

“Instead of taking the responsibility of building stated-controlled and operated power plants, it resorted to buying more expensive electricity from private power producers that will result to higher charges,” said Anakpawis party-list representative Fernando Hicap.

The partylist lawmaker noted that two years after the Supreme Court halted the construction of the coal-fired power plant in Subic, the government has done nothing to find other means to generate power supply to meet anticipated power requirements.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Ridon also castigated the government, saying it has shown that its concern has never been really about answering a projected power crisis but the interest of Meralco in its stalled coal-fired plant.

“We cannot allow government to relax environmental laws just because of concerns regarding power supply. Our homes cannot have lights while our children suffer from asthma and other respiratory problems. Local governments should be able to exercise their prerogative on any power plant proposals in their area,” Ridon said.

Back in 2012, petitioners against the coal-fired power plant – which include Kalikasan Partylist, Kabataan Partylist, local government officials and residents of Subic, Zambales, Olongapo and Bataan – argued in their Supreme Court petition that the Redondo project “violates the constitutional rights of the residents of Zambales and Bataan provinces to a balanced and healthful ecology.”

They also argued through legal counsel Ridon that the project “violates provisions the Local Government Code and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.”

Accept blame, stop attacking the Supreme Court

If the country’s power industry is facing a “supposed looming power crisis,” the ones accountable for it are President Aquino and his cabinet, and not the Supreme Court, said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares. The minority floor leader noted how the executive has continued attacking the judiciary, as exemplified by its energy and finance officials heaping the blame on the dubious power crisis to the Supreme Court.

“It seems that President Aquino and his cabinet will blame anyone and everyone except itself on the problems being encountered by the country, which they themselves were remiss in addressing. From all indications they are mind conditioning the public for a big power rate hike,” said Senior Deputy Minority Leader Colmenares.

The government is evading accountability and at the same time blackmailing electricity consumers, Colmenares said.

Similar to the Anakpawis and Kabataan Partylist representatives, Colmenares questioned the “fishy” warning of the executive about the supposedly looming power crisis, and the apparent government habit of failing to devise strategic ways of meeting every summer’s peak demand without burdening the people with a power rate hike.

Looming power crisis, real or not, could have been solved earlier if the Aquino administration has a comprehensive energy plan for the country, Colmenares said.

He said if President Aquino is really serious in addressing the power crisis, he shoud fast-track the repeal of EPIRA and instead, re-nationalize, fully regulate the power industry.

Rep. Colmenares added that “the government should project the supply and demand situation for at least five years.” He bemoaned how in other countries they could predict supply and demand situation 15 years ahead. But in the Philippines, as power industry approaches nearly full privatization, “we are informed barely 10 months before the crisis happens.”

Colmenares blamed this on the fact that the Philippine government “has lost control of the energy industry, leaving it to the complete control of private generation companies.”

“For now, it would do well for us consumers to really prevent and put a stop to further privatization of the remaining hydroelectric power plants and power barges and have their maintenance, rehabilitation and upgrading be handled by the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR),” Bayan Muna Rep Carlos Zarate suggested. He added that the government should also vigorously study the construction and development instead of other renewable sources of power so that we will not be at the stranglehold of the greedy power cartel.” ()

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