DOE, power players can’t promise brownout-free elections

By Myrna M. Velasco

The integrity of election results this May can be compromised by the occurrence of brownouts, but the Department of Energy (DOE) and the power companies cannot give full-proof assurance that electricity service interruptions will not happen during the polling period.

Department of Energy (DOE) logo Department of Energy (DOE) logo

When forthrightly asked by the media if they can assure that brownouts will not happen during election day, the energy department’s response was “it cannot tell”; while the power generation companies (GenCos) cannot give certainty that additional plant breakdowns will not happen.

At this point, the DOE as well as Manila Electric Company (Meralco) can only assure that power supply will be normal during the Holy Week break because demand is typically low on such holiday lull.

The DOE had just given word that it is pursuing contingency measures – including emergency power supply procurement by Meralco; the deployment of generating sets (gensets) and aligning the switch-on of interruptible loads in case power supply tightening or shortages will transpire.

The government is also betting on the fact that May 13 will be declared a holiday, so that will help taper off electricity demand because many private and government offices will be closed. Power loads, however, will be shifted into the precincts where voting will be held.

“We have set up protection measures, such as energy efficiency and we have policies to help shore up supply,” Energy Undersecretary Felix William B. Fuentebella said.

The government, he emphasized, will also closely coordinate with power generators and tighten its watch on them so the simultaneous forced outages of power plants seen in the past two weeks will not recur.

But Fuentebella qualified there are certain technicalities in the system that could affect electricity service – not just on the sphere of power generation, but also on facets of transmission of electricity and up to the point when power supply is distributed to end-users’ homes, businesses and office buildings.

The energy official said what they can promise is “to do our best, as we will remain answerable to all these,” – referring to the re-emergence of rotating brownouts during the election period as well as on the contingency measures that they should be able to enforce.

For the rest of the Holy Week, the forecast of the DOE is “white alert” or normal condition in the power system, giving certainty to the public then that brownouts will not happen while they are observing the Lenten season.

The DOE said power supply situation in the grid returned to normal following the grid synchronization of unit 1 of the Sual coal-fired plant, which suffered unplanned outage since last week.

“A normal condition for the system means there will be no power interruptions,” the energy department explained; although it further cautioned that “any additional forced outage or de-ration of plants will worsen the situation.”