Mindanao suffers massive blackout
Millions of people were left without electricity in Mindanao on Thursday after a massive power breakdown, officials said, as repair crews worked to determine the cause of the outage.
The power cuts began before dawn and affected heavily populated areas in Mindanao, home to a quarter of the country’s nearly 100 million population.
“Reports indicate that the Mindanao grid experienced a disturbance at 3:53 a.m. … [We are] still determining the cause and extent of the disturbance,” National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) said in a statement.
Mindanao, which relies mostly on hydroelectricity, has been grappling with chronic power shortages for years.
NGCP said at least 12 of Mindanao’s key cities and provinces—including major trading hubs—were affected, although limited power was restored in some parts a few hours later.
Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said repair crews were working to trace the cause of the interruption, stressing that he was confident power would return to all areas within the day.
“So far, there are no reports of damaged power plants,” Petilla told dzBB radio in Manila. “They are ready to come back online to the grid, we just have to turn them [on] one by one.”
“We are trying to figure out where” the source of the interruption was, he said, adding the outage was likely caused by a tripped transmission line.
An electricity shortage last year forced NGCP to ration out supply in Mindanao, resulting in up to 12-hour daily blackouts that damaged the local economy as factories slowed production.
By midday Thursday, Petilla told reporters 70 percent of the power system had been restored. He said power tripping was first reported at Pulangi 4 Hydroelectric Power Plant in Bukidnon province.
“I will not rule out anything. But we can’t see anything that shows sabotage right now,” he said.
Worst is yet to come
In the longer term, Petilla said, there is concern on whether there will be enough power in Mindanao. There may be a deficiency of 170 megawatts, which may result in three hours of rotating brownout in the summer.
NGCP, in an advisory Thursday afternoon, said power transmission services in Mindanao were back to normal. All NGCP substations connected to backbone lines in Mindanao were connected to the grid as of 12:18 p.m., the transmission superhighway operator said.
But this did not mean all distributors had restored power to households and other clients.
The transmission firm initially restored power services to the cities of Davao, General Santos, Zamboanga, Pagadian, Cagayan de Oro, as well as parts of Misamis Oriental province, around 9:30 a.m.
Petilla said he was more worried about whether there was enough power supply in Mindanao. For now, he said, the focus was on restoring power on the island.
The power cuts on Thursday struck as residents were getting ready for work.
“I had to keep using my lighter because the shops were still closed and we didn’t have candles,” said market vendor and mother-of-two Mary Villasenor from Davao City.
“The kids had to go to school with wrinkled clothes because we couldn’t plug in the flat iron,” she said.
“This situation is really a nightmare to the business sector,” said Annie Ty, vice president for Mindanao of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“It was a lot of loss, especially because every hour of operation counts,” Ty said. “Those who can operate now are only those who have generators.”
“Higher operation cost, loss and low productivity, another cross to carry for the business community just barely surviving the aftershock of the Zamboanga siege,” businessman Pedro Rufo Soliven said, referring to the Moro National Liberation Front uprising last September.
The outage happened a day after the Mindanao Development Authority held in General Santos City its fifth and last round of public consultations on the energy problem in the region during which planning chief Estrella Turingan stressed the need to prioritize the development of renewable energy.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the public must be vigilant.
“We fear that this island-wide blackout will once again be used by the Aquino administration to project a phantom power crisis and push or fast-track the privatization of the remaining government power assets like the Agus-Pulangi power complex. The Mindanaoans must be watchful of this and oppose this deceptive scheme,” Zarate said.—With reports from Germelina Lacorte, Karlos Manlupig, Julie S. Alipala, Edwin O. Fernandez, Williamor Magabua, Allan Nawal, Orlando Dinoy, Eldie Aguirre, Bobby Lagsa, Richel V. Umel, Inquirer Mindanao; and AFP