Power plant outages could top 4,300 MW

Worst cases of "forced outages" and generation de-rating of power plants this summer could surge up to 4,332 megawatts in the Luzon grid if technical glitches in power facilities would recur at the usual historical scale, the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines (IEMOP) projected.

According to IEMOP, which is the operator of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM), in Visayas alone, outages of power generating facilities as well as de-rating could pare power capacity availability by 1,067 megawatts while the Mindanao grid could add 752 megawatts.

Forced outages refer to unscheduled shutdowns of power plants while de-rating means reduction in electricity generation either due to factors like fuel deficiency (i.e. gas restriction from the Malampaya field) or cyclical weather pattern, such as in the case of hydro plants during summer months.

IEMOP Chief Operating Officer Robinson Descanzo, nevertheless, noted that in their power supply-demand outlook projections for the summer months, they just factored in 1,000 megawatts of probable forced outages and generation de-rating for the Luzon grid.

The IEMOP executive explained that there are “policy interventions" integrated in the power supply-demand projections, especially for the critical period of summer months. The general expectation is for the power plant operators to be ensuring more reliable operations given the rebuke they have been getting from the regulators and policymakers.

In addition, Descanco echoed that the planning parameters integrated by the Department of Energy (DOE), primarily the capacity additions that could be injected by the 668 MW Dinginin coal-fired power plant and the 150 MW Mariveles coal plant of San Miguel Energy Corp., are still at their commissioning and testing phases.

IEMOP similarly cited capacity beefing up from the Visayas grid via the high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission link-up, as well as the additional supply of about 120 MW coming from battery energy storage systems (BESS) that are already due on stream in Luzon and Visayas grids.

“In its simulations using typical generator offers and the DOE-forecasted peak demand, there is no projected energy supply shortage. In addition, even if there is 1,000MW additional unscheduled outage, the supply in the grid can still sustain the demand. However, IEMOP emphasized that GOMP (Grid Operating and Maintenance Program) compliance is the key for sufficient supply in the summer of 2022,” the WESM operator stressed.

IEMOP, nevertheless, admitted that its scenario planning on forced outages and de-rating of power plants had been comparatively leaner vis-à-vis the actual outages that happened in the critical years of 2019 and 2021 when Luzon grid descended into rotational blackouts because of power supply predicaments.

According to Descanzo, if the forced outages of power plants would get to the level of "worst case scenario" that had been experienced in Luzon in previous years, “then we will have a problem.”

Based on data provided by IEMOP, the magnitude of capacities drastically taken out from the Luzon grid system last year due to power plant outages had been: 2,100MW in January; 1,231MW in February; 2,044MW in March; 2,018MW in April; 1,194MW in May and 1,189MW in June.

For the month of July last year, plant outages hit 1,983MW; August was at the level of 1,621MW; September at 1,606MW; October at 2,417MW; November at 1,286MW; and in December, it was at the scale of 2,110MW.

In its attempt to paint a "best case" scenario, IEMOP indicated that such can be attained provided all contingency measures and alternative solutions will be concretized, including strict compliance to the GOMP or the preventive maintenance schedules of power plants – meaning, their shutdowns shall not go beyond the scheduled period.