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Power backup readied for vax storage as outages persist

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi

MANILA, Philippines — The government is readying generator sets to ensure an uninterrupted power supply in COVID-19 vaccination sites and storage facilities as brownouts are expected to continue in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon due to insufficient supply.

Vaccination centers have also been directed to prepare power supply backup plans such as portable or whole-house generators or even solar panel systems. Vaccination sites without any backup power source were told to coordinate with the regional or local vaccination centers for possible temporary storage of their vaccines.

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National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP), the private company operating the country’s power transmission network, estimated that the shortage in electricity supply could last until next week.

The Department of Health (DOH) has also provided Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), which distributes power in the capital and nearby provinces, with the locations of the cold storage hubs for its monitoring.

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“Brownouts [may affect vaccine storage], that’s why our partners in the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation have mapped out [the affected areas] and coordinated with Meralco so we will know the exact location and duration [of an outage],” Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said in a Viber message on Tuesday.

More sensitive

She said the Pfizer and Sputnik V vaccines were more sensitive than the Sinovac and AstraZeneca jabs as these required ultra-cold freezers, but added that there should be no problem since generators were readily available.

On May 31, Cabotaje issued an advisory to all regional and local vaccination operations centers, headed by the DOH Centers for Health Development and local government units, respectively, to prepare in case of natural disasters and power outages.

In the advisory, Cabotaje ordered all vaccination centers to come up with contingency plans and conduct simulation activities to safeguard and preserve the integrity of the COVID vaccines.

“For areas with power outages and are utilizing backup power sources, closely monitor the temperature of cold chain storage of COVID-19 vaccines [at least four times daily] and ensure that the temperature is maintained within the recommended temperature range,” Cabotaje added.

The government has not received any report so far of vaccine wastage due to the power outages.

Plant shutdowns

Peak demand for electricity on Tuesday exceeded for the second day in a row the available generating capacity in Luzon, prompting the “red alert” and brownouts in some parts of the grid.

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Officials of NGCP said red alerts were expected to be raised daily up to June 7, except on the weekend June 5-6 when demand was expected to be lower.

On Tuesday morning, NGCP raised the red alert covering a total of 11 hours—10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and again 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The longer red alert status, according to data from the Department of Energy (DOE), was due to the unplanned shutdown of the 345-megawatt generator at the GNP Mariveles coal-fired power complex in Bataan province for possible boiler tube leak. The generator was expected to resume operations on June 8.

NGCP raised the red alert on May 31 for three hours from 1 p.m. to 4:07 p.m. after the San Roque hydropower complex—three generators with a combined capacity 435 MW—went on a planned shutdown on May 30. It was scheduled to be back online on June 13.

Also cited as a cause of very low power reserves was the unplanned outage starting May 16 of the 647-MW generator of the Sual coal-fired power complex in Pangasinan province. It was supposed to resume operation after a few days, but its availability was now expected in the third week of June.

The 1,200-MW Ilijan gas-fired power complex in Batangas province was also running at only 716 MW because of reduced fuel output from the Malampaya natural gas field in offshore Palawan province.

To minimize the need to implement brownouts, large power consumers such as industrial and commercial establishments were encouraged to take part in the DOE’s Interruptible Load Program, under which they could voluntarily fire up their private generator sets instead of getting their electricity from their distributors, whenever the grid was on red alert.

Cusi criticism

The power shortage has triggered criticism of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who presided as vice chair over a controversial council meeting of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) on Monday in Cebu City amid talks of a rift among its party members.

Cusi should stop politicking and address the power shortage, according to House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also called on the DOE to explain why it earlier assured the public that red alerts would not happen and yet were occurring now.

Gatchalian said the Philippines could not afford any power interruption “even for a few minutes” as this could have significant implications on the storage of COVID vaccines.

He said this was the reason why he asked last April the DOE, concerned agencies and all stakeholders in the energy sector to ensure an uninterrupted and reliable power supply.

At that time, NGCP had called on industry players and policymakers to address an impending power supply shortage in Luzon, but the DOE immediately downplayed the warning and said red alerts were unlikely to happen.

“In public, during a hearing of the Senate energy committee last month, the DOE stated that they saw no possibility of a power supply shortage,” Gatchalian said. “The [DOE] must explain why the ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ alerts are happening” now.

—With a report from Nestor Corrales INQ
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TAGS: COVID-19 Vaccines, power outages, vaccine storage
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