DOE finally admits power capacity shortage

Published June 17, 2021, 4:37 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The Department of Energy (DOE) finally admitted that Luzon grid already lacks capacity to meet peak electricity demand, especially with the recurring dilemma of forced outages of power plants.

In a Senate hearing, DOE Director Mario C. Marasigan stated that given the combined loss of capacity in the system ignited by plant outages and the aggravating factor of de-rating on some generating facilities, “we already need additional capacities.”

Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi indicated that the Luzon grid has installed capacity of 17,000 megawatts and dependable capacity of 15,000MW, while peak demand forecast for 2021 is 11,841MW.

As reckoned from those numbers, the energy chief noted that the May 31-June 1 brownout-tantrums in the Luzon grid, had been due to the roughly 4,000MW of capacity that had been displaced in the system because of the combined impact of unplanned shutdowns and capacity de-rating of plants.

On incisive questioning of Senator Nancy Binay, she was able to unearth details from DOE that led to the conclusion of the grid’s very thin supply margin – and that’s critically happening during the peak demand months of summer.

Atty Richard Nethercott, president of the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines (IEMOP), explained that the required ancillary services or reserves on this year’s peak demand forecast had been calculated at 1,789 megawatts.

But while there appears a leverage for excess capacity of 3,636MW, that is often shaved off because of the technical glitches tugging power plants to breaking points or on limited scale of capacity generation.

In particular, he stressed that capacity de-rating are typically sparked off by facility’s operation and natural forces – with him emphasizing that ‘natural de-rating’ or reduced capacity of power plants would come off due to cyclical weather patterns, such as for hydro and wind farm facilities during summer months; while operational de-rating could be triggered by the ‘aging state’ of facilities; fuel supply restrictions; and other technical hiccups that a power facility might encounter.

The IEMOP president similarly supported views that if more than two major power plants would conk out, then there would already be “thinning of average available supply and that could then result in red alert.”

In the coming weeks, the DOE hinted that Luzon grid may still suffer from rotational brownouts because at least four power generating units will still be out from the system – including two of the biggest power plants, the 600MW Block A Ilijan plant; and 647MW Sual unit 1 power facility that will be on preventive maintenance schedules.

To this date, Senate Committee on Energy Chairman Sherwin T. Gatchalian has been voicing out frustrations on the lack of definitive plans yet of the DOE relative to the huge capacity that will be taken out from the system in the coming weeks – that in the process, may recommit consumers in Luzon to another wave of distressing power outages.

“A lot of things are at stake, we’re not getting clear answers as to the measures that the DOE and the other stakeholders to avoid that and we’re very, very concerned – this is a second hearing and we’re not getting straight answers and assurances from the department,” he asserted.

Gatchalian thus asked the DOE “to submit to the committee a firm proposal on how to avert probable brownouts in the coming weeks,” and for the agency to reconvene its task force to sort out strategies and measures for such concern in the power sector.

Bumki Park, representative of Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), which is the operator of the Ilijan gas-fired power plant, said they can only move the slated maintenance downtime of the facility for one week or up to July 1 this year, because the original schedule was already deferred from May 8 to June 24.

“Our facility is usually scheduled by the manufacturer from overseas – it’s them that recommend our operation hours, but it’s already going beyond recommendation. We can delay but not too much, so then we should stop our Block 1 from July 1st – it’s the best we can,” he pointed out.

The Kepco executive further stipulated that because of the delay in the facility’s maintenance activities, the company is already incurring maintenance cost overruns by up to 30-percent.

The other plant expected to shore up Luzon grid supply during the critical weeks of July is unit 1of the Dinginin coal-fired power project with 668MW capacity, but as cautioned by Roberto Racelis Jr., vice president of GNPower Dinginin Ltd. Co, “while the facility is ready to deliver power, that’s still part of the commissioning and testing, so there would be chances that supply contribution will be intermittent.”

The Dinginin plant’s commercial operation date (COD) is end-August this year, based also on its filing for certificate of compliance (COC) application with the Energy Regulatory Commission. ###