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Palace dismisses ‘no-election’ talk

No electricity sparks no-election speculation

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An attendant at an Internet cafe in Makati City waits for electricity to come back as a massive power outage leaves a large part of Luzon, including Metro Manila, without power on Wednesday. RAFFY LERMA

Malacañang rejected speculation about a massive power failure on May 13, Election Day, as Metro Manila and much of northern and central Luzon reeled from an outage on Wednesday.

President Aquino was about to go into a conference on security preparations for the elections when the outage struck at 1:51 p.m.

What really caused the Luzon-wide power failure remained undetermined as of early Wednesday night, said Raul Seludo, head of Luzon system operations at the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP).

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) also assured the public that power failure cannot stop next Monday’s vote.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the Comelec had sent power generators to the polling centers so the balloting would go on despite a power outage.

Seludo said six power plants went on emergency shutdown initially attributed to tripping on the Biñan-Calaca transmission line.

UNA’s fears

The opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) expressed fears that a similar, or worse, power disruption could happen on Election Day.

“I hope this is not a dry run for the May 13 elections,” said Toby Tiangco, spokesman for UNA.

“The President must use all his powers to ensure that there will be no brownouts on Election Day. It is important to ensure the credibility of the elections,” Tiangco added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the outage was worrying, because the Comelec had no contingency plan for running the automated voting machines in the event of a massive power failure.

“President Aquino should have the source of the blackout investigated and should see to it that it would not be repeated on Election Day,” Colmenares said.

The Comelec should disclose its contingency plan should a blackout happen on Election Day, he added.

Nothing to worry about

But Malacañang said there was nothing to worry about.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Energy Secretary Jericho L. Petilla assured President Aquino that the country would have adequate power on Election Day.

Valte said Petilla gave assurance of “ample” energy supply, as Election Day would be a holiday and industries would be closed.

“The elections are still days away so I don’t think this will have an effect,” the Comelec’s Jimenez said.

“If there’s a brownout, we have standby generators and batteries,” he said.

Comelec chief Sixto Brillantes Jr. earlier said the election watchdog had sent power generators to all the polling centers in the country to ensure uninterrupted operations even if a power outage occurred during the balloting.

Brillantes said the Comelec bought power generators for the general registration of voters in 2012.

Generators all over

“We have generator sets all over. That was a problem in Mindanao in 2011 and 2012 but we had a general registration in July 2012 and we bought new ones,” Brillantes said.

“In fact, we have many extra gensets that we can bring all over the Visayas but we have distributed at least one for every municipality,” he said.

Brillantes said the voting machines had also been fitted with batteries to ensure they would run for up to 12 hours in the event of a power outage.

“That’s automatic. If the power goes out, it would immediately shift to the batteries, so the machine would not stop. At least, that’s what I know,” he said.

Power failure cut through northern and central Luzon just before 2 p.m. on Wednesday, disrupting economic activity from Metro Manila and surrounding provinces to as far as Bataan, Zambales, Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte.

Six plants down

Petilla told a press briefing that failure started with the tripping of a power plant in Batangas.

The tripping spread to four other power plants, downing the transmission lines operated by the NGCP.

Petilla said the outage affected 3,700 megawatts, representing 45 percent of Luzon’s total peak electricity requirements.

Luzon’s total power demand stood at roughly 8,000 MW on Wednesday.

Petilla identified the crippled power plants as the Sual coal-fired plant in Pangasinan, owned by Japanese-led Team Energy and managed by the energy arm of San Miguel Corp; Korea Electric Power Corp’s Ilijan gas-fired plant, also managed by San Miguel; First Gen Corp.’s Sta. Rita and San Lorenzo natural gas plants; and the Quezon Power Philippines Ltd. plant, majority-owned by Thailand’s Electricity Generating Co.

Speaking at a news conference early Wednesday night, Seludo said six power plants in all conked out—the five named by Petilla earlier and the Calaca coal-fired plant in Batangas.

He said the outage was initially triggered by a tripping at the Biñan-Calaca transmission line. But the real cause had yet to be determined because the plant had been found to be “clear and OK,” he said.

NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Alabanza said the transmission operator found no “physical obstruction, technical glitch and hacking.”

The fault could be “beyond the Biñan-Laguna line,” she said.

No sabotage

Petilla ruled out “sabotage,” saying there was no indication that the outage was an “election-related event.”

He said the outage began with tripping at the Ilijan plant and spread to other plants that supplied power to the Luzon grid.

The NGCP said the areas hit by the outage were Laoag City and the towns of San Nicolas, Currimao, Badoc, Pinili, Paoay and parts of Batac City in Ilocos Norte; Ilocos Sur and Abra; La Union, except the La Union Electric Cooperative-Naguilian franchise area; and Pangasinan, except the western areas of the province.

Sections of Pampanga, including the City of San Fernando, lost power at 3:30 p.m., although the power supply was restored 30 minutes later.

The towns of Arayat, Mexico, Sta. Ana, and Candaba, which were served by the Pampanga Electric Cooperative 1, also lost power.

Baguio City escaped an outage because the Baguio Electric Cooperative resorted to load shedding, or engineering a power shutdown in selected sections of its system to prevent a total shutdown.

Positive spin

Putting a positive spin to the event, Petilla said that since the problem was in the transmission lines, it would be easier to restore power, as repairing transmission lines took only hours, compared to repairing power plants, which took weeks or months.

As of 7 Wednesday night, three plants—Sta. Rita, San Lorenzo and Ilijan—had gone back on line, restoring power to 77 percent of Luzon and enabling the Manila Electric Co. to fill the demand from 89 percent of its 5.1 million customers in Metro Manila and surrounding areas, the NGCP said.

“This is the first time that something of this magnitude happened, a first for NGCP and even for National Transmission Corp.,” Alabanza said.

Petilla said a repetition was unlikely.

“[Six] power plants bogging down [at the same time] is extremely unlikely and it did not happen today, because it was the lines that caused the brownouts, not the power plants,” he said.—With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Amy R. Remo and Christian Esguerra in Manila; Cristina Arzadon, Gabriel Cardinoza and Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon; and Tonette Orejas, Robert Gonzaga, Greg Refraccion, Anselmo Roque and Jo Martinez-Clemente, Inquirer Central Luzon

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Tags: Brownout , Elections , Luzon , Malacañang , no-election talk , outage , Philippines

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