MANILA, Philippines — Brownouts hit a large portion of Metro Manila and provinces in Luzon on Wednesday as six major power plants on the island went on unscheduled shutdowns, five days before the election on May 13. By Wednesday evening, three power plants had gone back online.
The outage of the power plants, which began 1:51 p.m., was due to a tripping of transmission lines that started in a power facility in Batangas, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho L. Petilla said in a press briefing on Wednesday.
These transmission lines are currently being managed and operated by the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP).
The energy chief earlier identified five power plants that conked out as the Sual coal-fired power facility in Pangasinan, owned by the Japanese-led Team Energy and managed by the energy arm of San Miguel Corp.; Korea Electric Power Corp.’s Ilijan gas-fired facility, which is also being managed by San Miguel; First Gen Corp.’s Sta. Rita and San Lorenzo natural gas plants; and the Quezon Power Philippines Ltd., which is majority-owned by Thailand’s Electricity Generating Co. (Egco).
But in a separate briefing late Wednesday, Raul Seludo, head of Luzon system operations at the NGCP, clarified that six power plants went offline starting 1:51 p.m. on Wednesday, to include the Calaca coal-fired power plants in Batangas. The NGCP in a statement also denied that the transmission lines were the problem.
According to Seludo, the outages were initially triggered by the tripping of the Biñan-Calaca transmission line. But the real cause had yet to be determined because the actual physical asset itself has been found “clear and ok.
There was also no indication that the problem lay with the NGCP as the transmission operator already ruled out physical obstruction, technical glitch and hacking, added NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Alabanza.
Alabanza said that the fault might “be beyond the Binan-Laguna” line.
She, however, assured the public that they were expecting to restore transmission lines and power by Wednesday midnight.
As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, three facilities had gone online, namely the Sta. Rita, San Lorenzo and Ilijan gas plants. Seventy seven percent of Luzon already had power while electricity in 89 percent of Meralco’s over 5.1 million customers has already been restored, NGCP reported.
“This is the first time that something of this magnitude happened–a first for NGCP and even for National Transmission Corp. (Transco),” added Alabanza.
Petilla said the outage of the five major power plants alone affected 3,700 megawatts of supply, representing 45 percent of Luzon’s total peak electricity requirements. Luzon’s total power demand stood at roughly 8,300 MW on Wednesday.
Petilla, however, was quick to rule out “sabotage” in the outage of these power plants, adding that there were no indications that this was an “election-related” event.
The energy chief stressed that the cause of the power outages was the tripping of transmission lines that began at the Ilijan unit, which then affected the other power plants along the Luzon grid.
On a positive note, Petilla said that it would be easier to restore power as repair work on transmission lines would only take hours compared to weeks or months of repairing a power plant.
The energy chief even waxed optimistic that power would be back within the day (Wednesday) as some of the affected power plants would be ready to go online, if the cause of tripping was isolated.
“Power supply is not our concern. It’s the transmission lines that we are looking into now,” he stressed.
As of now, some of the so-called must-run units or the more expensive bunker-fired power facilities are being tapped to provide additional power to the Luzon grid. These facilities include a 300-MW unit at the Malaya thermal power plant in Rizal and the 600-MW Limay facility in Bataan, and the 255-MW Bauang diesel unit.
The NGCP said the brownouts on Wednesday were estimated to last only four hours.
Within Metro Manila and nearby provinces, power distributor Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga said in a phone interview that at least 40 percent of its franchise area were without power starting 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
Petilla further downplayed the likelihood that of the outage happening again.
“The likelihood of five power plants bogging down is extremely unlikely and it did not happen today (Wednesday) because it’s the lines that caused the brownouts–not the power plants,” Petilla said.
“Even if this happens on Monday, it will not affect the [electoral] process, because the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines can run on battery that can last 10 to 12 hours. But that’s the worst case scenario, that we have no power until the closing of the elections,” Petilla further assured the public.
While Petilla was putting the blame on the transmission lines, NGCP was saying otherwise.
“NGCP assures the public that its transmission lines are secure and fully functional. It will dispatch available capacities once the power plants are restored and online,” the NGCP said in a text blast to reporters on Wednesday.
Both First Gen and Team Energy meanwhile noted that the outage of their respective facilities was due to “external grid event.”
As of press time on Wednesday, First Gen said the units of the San Lorenzo and Sta. Rita gas plants were being “prepared using emergency backup power supply of plant and ready for start-up awaiting back feed from power grid.”
Team Energy, for its part, explained that the tripping of Sual Unit 1 was due to external factors.
“It is not caused by any internal problem. The drop in grid frequency caused by the trip of other plants resulted in an automatic trip of Sual Unit 1,” Team Energy said.
“This is a protective system meant to prevent major damage to our facility. We are trying to start up the plant. Barring any complications, it should be ready to provide electricity to the grid in one to two hours,” Team Energy said as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
On another development, Petilla also assured that electricity-starved Mindanao would have adequate power during the election on Monday.
He, however, warned that businesses and factories that would try to operate on May 13, would automatically be cut off.
“If you run your factories/plants we might disconnect you. That’s profit to some of you, but it’s of national interest for us. We will extend full authority of DOE to sanction those who will not cooperate, although based on the responses we got, they will cooperate,” Petilla added.
“If you want to open your business, you have to use your own power,” he further stressed.
As of Wednesday, the Mindanao grid posted a supply deficit of 199 MW.