DoE pressed on plans during 20-day Malampaya shutdown; comprehensive solutions sought

Published June 21, 2021, 1:39 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

As a ‘blackout legacy’ of the Duterte administration is getting up close and personal, the Department of Energy (DOE) is finally calling on all industry stakeholders to sort out comprehensive solutions to the imminent energy crisis.

As a priority matter though, the energy department is being pressed to firmly establish contingency plans during the October 2-22 preventive maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya field that underpins the fuel needs of 3,211 megawatts of power capacity in Luzon grid.

According to House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate, if the DOE will not fully prepare, “this is like déjà vu and this is the same situation we were in during the 2013 Malampaya shutdown.”

He thus emphasized that the DOE must “lay down concrete plans to stave off brownouts and rate hikes in the coming months.”

In his call for all-inclusive solution to the inevitable crisis, Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi said “to attain our common goal of ensuring round-the-clock availability of reliable and accessible power services to the consumers, we need the operational compliance of all industry players.”

He added “we continue to emphasize teamwork in building a strong power system for the benefit of our consumers and our economy.”

The major frustration of the industry players though is how the DOE is currently handling the ‘fixing front’ of the current power supply problems in the Luzon grid – that with its intent of demonizing just one industry player, real solutions are not really being set in place.

In 2019 or a year prior to the strike of the Covid-19 pandemic, the energy department was already cautioned on thinning supply margin, but last year’s low demand somehow gave an illusory assumption of sufficient energy supply.

Nevertheless, with the re-opening of the economy and the government’s aspiration for fast-paced economic rebound after the health crisis, power supply is on extreme catch-up mode, hence, fears of rotating power interruptions are expected to recur during peak demand months of summer.

Cusi has been insisting on 100-percent reserves contracting by system operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) and while that is one of the industry solutions needed, even generation companies (GenCos) are saying that this must be fully satisfied with propounded forward contracting – or there’s already a contract to be sealed before the power plant would be built.

On that premise then, the forward contracting of reserves cannot solve the supply crisis that Luzon grid will be confronted with in the coming weeks and months.

Industry players also noted that there is a need to address the basic issue of supply, so that sufficient and reliable reserves can be tapped in the operation of the power system in the immediate to long-term.

Cusi indicated that the DOE “constructed the needed capacities”, but realistically, it is during his stint at the agency that the department’s roll of projects have been wanting of greenfield power capacities.

All the power plants completed under the Duterte administration were firmed up and had started their construction phases during the Aquino administration.

The recent rotating blackouts have been blamed on the simultaneous forced outages of power plants as well as the scheduled preventive maintenance of some generating units during the summer period.

The DOE had also tossed condemnation on the system operator that the maintenance of some plants had not been coordinated or there were no compliance of document-submissions on such activities, but the power plant operators and owners themselves have sounded off that there had been “constant coordination with the DOE” on the downtime schedules of their power facilities.

 
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