Brownouts to hit Nueva Ecija, Albay, OlongapoBy Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—At least two provinces and a city in Luzon should brace for brownouts after the electric cooperatives serving them failed to pay billions of pesos in debt to power generation companies, including the state-run Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (Psalm).
In a briefing on Monday, Energy Secretary Jericho L. Petilla said the government-run Pantabangan Municipal Electric Services (Pames) had been disconnected from the Luzon grid as of noon Monday for failing to settle P8.7 million in arrears to the Lopez-led First Gen Hydro Power Corp.
“I did not want to dip my fingers into the Pantabangan issue for now because they already had arrangements. If they need my help, which I think the [Nueva Ecija] governor is [asking for], then the [Department of Energy] will probably come in,” Petilla said.
First Gen Hydro, which owns and operates the 132-megawatt Pantabangan-Masiway hydroelectric complex, disconnected Pames from its grid last year for nonpayment of its obligations. The Lopez firm earlier claimed that Pames had repeatedly failed to honor its obligations to FG Hydro over the past five years.
Pames supplies electricity to the province of Nueva Ecija (see related story).
Meanwhile, Olongapo City also faces possible power outages as the Olongapo Public Utilities Department (PUD) had been issued a disconnection notice upon the request of Psalm, according to Petilla.
“Psalm is going to issue a notice of disconnection. We are looking at the Olongapo situation right now. We just can’t come in. We’d like to look first at how the city government became the distribution utility. At the same time, we need to know their collection efficiency,” Petilla said.
The energy chief further disclosed that the Olongapo City government’s PUD owes P4 billion, mostly to Psalm. The problem, he added, was that the utility had a low collection efficiency and did not have long-term bilateral contracts that could ensure continued earnings.
According to Petilla, San Miguel Energy Corp. earlier supplied power to Olongapo but decided to withdraw the contract after an alleged breach on the part of the PUD. Psalm then became the default supplier for Olongapo City.
“Psalm can no longer take a big hit. We [DOE] will come in to see the situation, although I’m not as worried because the city government has funds. [The city government’s PUD] has to prioritize this, to come up with a payment scheme because, otherwise, you’ll encounter bigger problems if you don’t have electricity,” Petilla said.
The cash-strapped Albay Electric Cooperative is also in danger of being disconnected from the Luzon grid due to unpaid obligations of about P4 billon, according to Petilla.
He, however, assured consumers there would be adequate power across the country before, during and one week after the May elections.
“By hook or by crook, there will be electricity during the elections. We are coming up with solutions [to ensure the supply],” he said.