For most people in Mindanao, every day is Earth Hour Day.
Maria Chuchi Siva, a 41-year-old mother of two, complained that the frequent power outages in Zamboanga City are hurting her family’s finances.
“Before, we can store meat and fish good for a week’s consumption, but with these frequent blackouts, we are forced to buy food good for a day’s consumption. It’s a waste of time and energy for me,” Siva said.
Siva’s monthly budget has also jacked up to about 50 percent.
“I need to go to the market every day and we need to spend about P600 for the candles,” she said.
Ludivica Araham, a mother of three who works part-time as a tutor, said she lost five students, or an income of P5,000, because of the brownouts in Zamboanga City.
“My students are only available from late afternoon till nighttime, and this is when blackouts happen,” she said.
The same scenarios are repeated in most parts of Mindanao.
“Is this what our people have been putting up with, year after year?” said Makabayan senatorial aspirant Teddy Casiño, who went around Mindanao to campaign.
“President Aquino should act immediately before the power crisis in Mindanao worsens,” he said, lamenting that Mr. Aquino failed to act on 13 recommendations made by the Mindanao Power Summit in April 2012.
Among those proposed in the summit is the permanent exemption from privatization of the Agus-Pulangui hydropower complex, the creation of the Mindanao Power Corp. to oversee the operations of existing and future power plants in Mindanao, the deployment of National Power Corp. (Napocor) power barges to Mindanao, the development of renewable energy sources and the amendment of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, especially provisions on privatization.
The Department of Energy (DOE) said power demand in Mindanao peaks at 1,484 megawatts this year, but existing power plants can only supply an estimated 1,181 MW of power, resulting in a 300-MW power deficit, which explains the rotating brownouts in areas that do not have power generation capacities.
Month of suffering
For over a month now, Iligan City, Lanao del Norte and Misamis Occidental have been experiencing two rounds of daily brownouts because of the power shortfall.
In General Santos City, franchise areas of South Cotabato II Electric Cooperative (Socoteco II), which covers General Santos, Sarangani province and the towns of Polomolok and Tupi in South Cotabato, have been experiencing six to seven hours of brownouts daily.
Pressed for solutions, the Mindanao Development Authority (Minda) sees the reopening of the Iligan diesel power plant and the commissioning of two other power plants in the region as temporary solutions.
Minda Chair Luwalhati Antonino, during the March 15 Zamboanga power summit, said the government plans to tap diesel plants to fill the 100 to 300-MW power deficit.
Aside from the Iligan diesel power plant, the 15-MW Mapalad diesel power plant operated by Mapalad Energy Generating Corp. and the 15-MW Heavy Fuel Oil or bunker fuel Peaking Plant of the EEI Power Corp. in Tagum City, will be tapped to add 30 MW.
“Once reopened, the Iligan diesel power plant, which has a full generating capacity of 100 MW will significantly ease Mindanao’s current daily power deficit of 100-300 MW,” Antonino said at the Zamboanga power summit.
She said the Iligan plant will generate an initial 20 MW of power when it resumes operations next month and will operate at full capacity before the end of the year.
But Antonino said the government is also fast-tracking the rehabilitation of the Agus-Pulangi hydropower plants, which supply more than 50 percent of Mindanao’s power requirement.
The 1,000-MW hydropower complex is only generating 570 MW of power now.
“The mechanical parts of hydropower plants are good for only 30 years, after which, they should already be replaced,” Antonino said. “The plant’s capacity has been reduced due to heavy siltation of the river systems and dams that feed the facility.”
She said they are embarking on a rehabilitation project that involves replacing the main equipment of the two generating units of the Agus 6 power facility to extend the facility’s life span by another 30 years and its generating capacity upgraded from 50 to 69 MW.
She said Napocor and the Balo-I local government in Lanao del Norte will embark on a flood-control project to address flooding that would result from the increased output of the Agus 2 Hydro Electric Power Plant.
Sharing the burden
But Antonino also asked people to do their share in conserving power. “While the government is keenly developing mechanisms to cope with Mindanao’s annual electricity consumption growth of 4.7 percent, consumers must also do their share in efficient energy use,” she said.
She warned of a dry spell that could reduce the output of the Agus-Pulangi power plant.
Minda cochairs with DOE the Mindanao Power Monitoring Committee, which is currently doing a resource-mapping project for existing hydro and biomass resources in Mindanao. Antonino said they are still preparing an initial list of prospective areas for hydropower development in partnership with USAID Climate Change and Clean Energy (CEnergy) Project.
But in the meantime, local executives are trying to cover the yawning gap between power demand and existing power supply by enforcing power-saving measures and encouraging the use of standby generators from major power consumers.
In General Santos city, Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio, daughter of the Minda chair, urged consumers to cut down consumption.
Socoteco II, which has a base load of 112 MW, is only getting an average of 82 MW (the 52 MW, coming from Napocor and 30 MW from Therma Marine). The 30-MW deficiency results in six to seven hours of rotating brownouts, which might worsen once Veranza Mall and Greenleaf Hotel, which will need an average of 5 MW daily, start to operate.
Change of schedules
Custodio urged the city’s 13 biggest companies, also the city’s top power consumers, to shift their operation from the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. peak load hours to the 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. off-peak load hours. The mayor also urged household users to switch off refrigeration or air-conditioning units for three to four hours daily.
Power supply in General Santos is expected to stabilize in 2015 when the 200-MW coal-fired power plant in Maasim, Sarangani, starts to operate.
Custodio said the city government will lead by example by replacing all high pressure sodium lamps with LED streetlights. “By doing this, we will be able to save at least 1 MW daily, at the same time, cut down our expenses on electricity,” Custodio said.
She said if the 13 big companies will heed the city’s call to use their own diesel-fed power generating sets for three hours during peak load hours, it would ease the load on the Mindanao grid and save about 20 MW daily.
In Zamboanga City, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla offered the distribution of power generators to Mindanao electric cooperatives that do not have embedded generators.
“These generators will be able to provide power supply immediately, while we are waiting for new capacities to come online by 2015 and onwards,” Petilla said.
In Kidapawan City, the Napcor-Power Sector Assets Liabilities and Management (Napocor-PSALM) said it is carrying out water conservation measures to assure sufficient power supply in Mindanao for the May 2013 midterm elections.
Lawyer Omar Pacilan, Napocor-PSALM spokesperson, said the Napocor is certain that there will be sufficient electricity in Mindanao for the elections. Germelina Lacorte, Julie S. Alipala, Ryan Rosauro, Aquiles Zonio and Carlos Agamon