DOE assures ‘no brownouts’ during summer months

Published April 22, 2021, 3:28 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The Department of Energy (DOE) is giving its guarantee to the Filipino public that they are not going to suffer brownouts or electricity service disruptions within the stretch of the April-June summer months, as long as demand would remain lean and if there would be no additional major power plants that shall be plunged into forced outages.

In a briefing with the media, Energy Assistant Secretary Redentor Delola indicated that “based on what we’re seeing right now, as long as there would be no substantial outages, we don’t expect problems in the coming months.”

Department of Energy (DoE) (MANILA BULLETIN)
Department of Energy (DoE) (MANILA BULLETIN)

He expounded that based on projected peak demand of 11,841 megawatts during the summer months, the ‘worst case scenario ‘would be ‘yellow alerts’ or thinning of reserves on weeks 15 to 18 (within second week of April to first week of May); and then weeks 21 to 25 or second week of May to mid-month of June.

Delola qualified “what we expect moving forward, April, May and June; we would not be able to hit 11,841MW because demand would be substantially lower…we will have enough reserve margin to cater to our requirements, we still have sufficient reserves.”

As of Thursday (April 22), seven generating facilities were still on outages – two of which have been on scheduled maintenance downtime; and five are on forced shutdowns. That scale of outages shaved at least 1,900MW of capacity from the grid.

DOE Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella added that the power system had been saved from getting strained further – despite the outages of power plants, because at least two major plants had been convinced to defer their maintenance schedules, mainly that of Block A of the 1,200MW Ilijan gas-fired power plant; and Unit 1 of the 1,200MW Sual coal-fired power generating facility.

On highly probable rate spikes though, the energy official stated that such would be a matter for the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to address, given its regulatory mandate on rate-setting for the power sector.

Fuentebella likewise noted the attention of several power plant owners and operators have likewise been called – at least for them to explain or raise the concerns why their maintenance schedules are being stretched, including those of Asia Pacific Energy Corporation, Caliraya-Botocan-Kalayaan (CBK) hydro, Luzon Hydropower Corporation, First Gas Corporation, GNPower Mariveles, Sem-Calaca Power Corporation and the power generation facility of Petron Corporation.

Director Mario Marasigan of DOE’s Electric Power Industry Management Bureau explained that “the issue of extended outages is the availability of their foreign national experts and also the supplies and materials — the actual arrivals.”

For this to be resolved, he asserted that the DOE is “coordinating with them (power firms) and we’re also endorsing their request to our concerned government agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Bureau of Immigration, as well as to the Bureau of Customs.”

But he stressed that there were still snags, because “we faced difficulties with the recent advisory of the National Task Force for Covid-19 administration – even on the request for special consideration on the wake of the imposition of the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) and MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine) for the months of March and April, so those were really the difficulties that were faced by the companies still on outages.”

In a related development, the Senate Committee on Energy has primarily called to task both the DOE and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to immediately investigate the long-reported outages in power plants, especially so since the subsequent impact of these would be rising electric bills to consumers.

In particular, Senate Committee on Energy Chairman Sherwin T. Gatchalian prodded the energy department “to address any logistical concerns faced by some power producers,” as these were cited to have been partly causing the extended shutdowns of the generating facilities.”

He fiercely warned that if these predicaments of the power firms won’t be addressed soonest, the recurrence of plant outages could become a stretched fixture in the power system in the coming days and weeks.

The danger to that, the lawmaker said, is committing consumers to fresh round of price spikes – and even a worst case scenario of brownouts if more capacities will be taken out from the system due to the simultaneous forced outages of power generating units.

In Gatchalian’s view, the financially tormenting impact of rate hikes and even service interruptions are unwarranted, given that many Filipinos are struggling to survive from the economic distress brought about by the pandemic.

Further, Gatchalian is calling on all relevant stakeholders to “ensure uninterrupted and reliable power supply while strict home quarantine is observed in all households and while the government rolls out its Covid-19 vaccination program.”

He stressed that “the country cannot afford to have brownouts during this time when vaccines need to be stored in specific cold conditions or refrigeration to maintain (their) efficiency.”

It is worth noting that since last month, Luzon grid had been teetering within ‘critical breaking points’ anew — as power plants have been successively on shutdowns – either on scheduled downtimes or on forced outages.

That setting in the power system is largely undesirable – not only because there are vaccines needing to be stored in sub-zero temperatures; but most Filipinos are also confined in their homes not just to tend to their families, but also for work-from-home arrays; while many students are on their online distance learning grooves.

“These days, we could ill afford any power interruption as most workers, even government employees are on a work-from-home scheme, some on distance learning and online business transactions,” Gatchalian noted.

In the past, the Grid Operating and Maintenance Program (GOMP) being set out by the DOE had been calculatedly avoiding maintenance schedules of power generating facilities during summer months, because that may exert unwarranted pressure on supply, especially when demand for electricity peaks because of the scorching weather.