DOE moves to avert ‘summer brownouts’

Published January 15, 2021, 2:43 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

With plant shutdowns bringing power grids to breaking points again, the Department of Energy (DOE) nudged power plant owners to re-align their maintenance activities to avoid brownouts during the summer months.

Energy Assistant Secretary Redentor E. Delola has called the attention of the generation companies (GenCos) on “a lot of plant outages in the past few weeks.” At this rate, Delola is not optimistic of a brownout-free summer season.

 “Considering the existing maintenance schedules of plants, we may have to realign our activities for the year to ensure the level of sufficient supply,” he said, adding that some of the plant downtimes could stretch into the summer.

The DOE does not see an encouraging power supply system, especially given forecasts of economic recovery this year.

And for that, the DOE summoned the power firms this early so they can sort out preparations in the entire supply chain before demand would pick up during the hotter months.

Pre-pandemic level, the prognosis for the country’s power grids – especially the economic center of Luzon – had already been tight supply condition, but that was thwarted last year because of the demand crash precipitated by the health crisis.

But this year, the narrative could be a reverse of the pandemic-stricken 2020, especially if the vaccine will finally be brought to Philippine shores in the coming months.

To prepare for the inevitable and on the instruction of Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi, the DOE and the relevant industry players convened last January 12 for a three-hour meeting “to assess the power situation in Luzon and ensure that there will be enough supply, especially during the summer months.”

At the very least, that has been the pre-emptive undertaking of the government and the private sector, so electricity service interruptions will not distress consumers while they also bounce back from the torment of the pandemic.

Energy Undersecretary Emmanuel P. Juaneza underscored “the need to have sufficient power supply and prevent power outages that inconveniences the consumers and disrupts business operations during the country’s recovery from the effects of the pandemic.”

The industry players who joined the DOE meeting are those from the National Transmission Corporation, National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, Energy Regulatory Commission, Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation as well as the generation companies.

Last year, it was not a power supply crisis that happened in the country – but it was more of human-induced confusion in billings because of the mandate of the ERC to the distribution utilities (DUs) to enforce “estimated billings”, hence, this is also an aspect that the industry may need to systematically address given the spillover impact of the pandemic this 2021.

“We are constantly reminded by Secretary Cusi that we must ensure the efficient delivery of basic energy services to the people. We have to do better,” Juaneza told the power firms.

System operator NGCP, for its part, reported that the power outlook for 2021 is “good”, but it cautioned that there is a need “to improve the situation further.”

And with the requested adjustments in the maintenance shutdowns of power plants, the transmission firm stated that the GenCos must “submit a formal documentation of their requests so that the NGCP will revise the grid maintenance program.”