DOE, ERC urged to be more proactive in monitoring power plant outages

Published January 24, 2022, 4:30 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The two key government agencies exercising oversight and regulatory functions over the deregulated power industry are being urged to take “proactive steps” in monitoring, and if possible, minimize the occurrence of forced outages of power plants so Luzon grid will not be plunged into ‘dark spell of rotational blackouts’ again in this year’s summer months.

“The DOE (Department of Energy) and ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission) should look at that (forced outages of generating facilities) and also be more proactive in monitoring the possibility of extended maintenance shutdowns of power plants because these also contribute to the supply problem,” Laban Konsyumer Inc. (LKI) President Victorio Mario Dimagiba said.

The former trade undersecretary has echoed the assessment of system operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) that “the problem we keep on seeing is unscheduled power outages.”

Last year, the ERC had penalized several power generating facilities that had surpassed the allowable ‘forced outages’ or unplanned shutdowns in their operations; but as early as January this year, heaps of power plants had been back on their usual technical trouble of forced shutdowns, hence, Luzon grid was plunged into ‘yellow alert’ last January 10-11.

Given the tell-tale signs of strained power supply when demand would peak within the April-June summer period, Dimagiba noted “at this point, instead of pointing fingers, the industry players should work together to make sure that this issue on thin power supply will be addressed the soonest possible time.”

He further stressed that instead of the DOE taking the ‘blame game’ forefront, “we need a real assurance especially since stable and sufficient power supply is crucial for the upcoming elections.”

The energy department has yet to issue an updated power supply-demand outlook covering the first half of this year – and that shall include the summer months which would be very crucial because of this year’s synchronized national and local elections.

Dimagiba asserted the predicaments of thin power supply that could descend to ‘red alert’ conditions in the power system – or worse rotational brownouts – were being raised by relevant stakeholders as early as last year, but the DOE opted to paint a relatively positive outlook of supply sufficiency even when there will be sudden surge of electricity demand.

Nevertheless, there are inherent conditions in the power system needing critical attention – including the recurring forced outages of power plants; de-rating of plants’ generation output due to fuel deficiency, especially the power plants feeding on gas supply from the Malampaya field; and the inescapable extension of preventive maintenance shutdowns of electric generating facilities.

The Malampaya field, in particular, is now at its production depletion phase, hence, Dimagiba is similarly nudging the DOE to “do something about the persisting derated capacity issue of some power plants.”