May 2016 polls blamed for Luzon power blackouts

MANILA, Philippines – It's all over and done but the May 2016 elections are still being cited as the cause of Luzon's power problems.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said power plants servicing Luzon were forced to run in full steam during the elections, prompting delays in their maintenance.

"According to our study, due to the May 9 elections na postpone 'yung ibang maintenance ng ibang planta. So, nagpatong-patong... nagsabay-sabay ang maintenance because the plants cannot stretch anymore their operating schedule," Cusi told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday, August 16.

(According to our study, the maintenance of some power plants had to be postponed due to the May 9 elections. So, the delays piled up... and eventually, the maintenance shutdowns of these power plants occurred simultaneously because they could no longer further stretch their operating schedules.)

Since there was a directive at the time for all power plants to be always available during the election period, Cusi said the scheduled maintenance of power plants suffered.

"Tapos nagkaroon po ng sinasabing forced outages o mga breakdown so nagpatong-patong. That's why nagkaroon po ng malaking shortage," Cusi added.

(Then forced outages or breakdowns occurred, worsening the problem. That's why there was a huge shortage of electricity reserves.)

From July 26 to August 5, the height of the Luzon blackouts, about 20 power plants shut down. Eight of them were due to forced outages while 12 were scheduled for maintenance as approved by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

Senator Loren Legarda questioned Cusi's reasons.

"Bakit ho election ang magiging sanhi ng pag-delay at pag-postpone? (Why is the election the reason for the delay and postponement?) Is maintenance of a power plant in any way involved in the political process?" Legarda asked officials.

Ronald Concepcion, Assistant Corporate Secretary of the NGCP, reiterated the directive that "there should be no power outages during the election period."

The number of power plants in need of upkeep after May seemed to have doubled, with scheduled maintenance and forced outages happening simultaneously.

Reasons for sudden shutdown

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) immediately ordered the power plants to explain their sudden shutdown.

The power plants cited the following reasons:

ERC Chairperson Jose Vicente Salazar said the ERC and the newly-established Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) are currently investigating the possible collusion among power companies.

"We're now in the process of finalizing a memorandum of understanding between the ERC and PCC, both on the investigation as well as on the adjudication of anti-competitive practices," Salazar said.

Cusi said it is difficult to accuse anybody at this point.

"'Di namin sinasabi na meron. We just want to make sure na talagang 'di nangyari. Everything is possible. Mahirap i-accuse na wala namang basis, we're investigating it to discount it," Cusi said. 

(We are not saying that there is collusion. We just want to make sure we find out what really happened. Anything is possible. It's hard to accuse anyone without basis; we're investigating to discount it.)

No looming power crisis

Despite the uncertainties, Cusi said the public need not worry since there is more than enough supply now.

The basis for this claim, he said, are the numbers. "That is more than the supply... Just to make sure 'di magkakaroon ng power crisis, we have to make sure 'yang planta umaandar and may reserves (Just to make sure we won't have a power crisis, we have to make sure the power plants are running and we have sufficient reserves)."

Cusi failed to say when and how the other power plants would begin operating, considering it takes at least 3 to 5 years to built new power sources. (READ: Gov't to cut red tape to bring in more power plants)

Cusi only said there is an expected 847MW expected before the year ends, as part of the power supply – more than 10,000MW – that's needed in the next 15 years.

"Hopefully pag pasok ng bagong generating plants that are in the horizon magkakaron tayo ng sufficient [supply], 'yung brownout will not happen again," he added.

(Hopefully when the new generating plants in the horizon are already here, we will have sufficient supply and brownouts will not happen again.) – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.

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