By Aldrin Cardona and Dinah S. Ventura | The Daily Tribune


After the water interruptions that greeted our summer, a series of yellow alerts have been raised due to the thinning power reserves brought about by forced power plant outages.

Affected was Luzon, the most densely populated of the country’s three major islands.

“The Luzon grid was placed on yellow alert thrice last month, and then again for a couple of days in early April.

Expect your billings to go up this month, though, as electricity price at the power market last month hit over P12 per kilowatt hour (kWh), the highest this year which has yet to end its first third.

The Luzon grid was placed on yellow alert thrice last month, and then again for a couple of days in early April.

The first week of March had seen the series of yellow alerts raising the Load Weighted Average Prices (LWAP) in the spot market reaching a top of P12 per kWh, according to the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) data, when normal LWAP is just about P7 per kWh.

“In the immediately preceding week (after 4 and 5 March), the highest daily LWAP was only P7.327 per kWh. The highest daily LWAP was only P7.48 per kWh,” Meralco Utility Economics head Lawrence Fernandez said in a statement that was not without its warnings.

Its translation will be reflected in our next month’s power bills after Meralco’s calculation of the impact of the yellow alerts. Adjustments are quickly reflected in our monthly power bills as Meralco partly sources its energy requirements from the WESM, whose prices have a great impact on the public supply and usage.

When there is less supply from power plants, great demand follows naturally. That’s the law that leads to an upward pressure on spot market prices and the holes on our pockets.

We’ll feel it soon. It’s not just the heat and darkness.

These alerts slim down our wallets too. That is aside from thinning power reserves from the required 647-megawatt contingency in Luzon.

That is equivalent to the supply from the 647 MW coal-fired power plant in Sual, Pangasinan, the largest generation unit in Luzon.

Now, that is serious.

In June last year, President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order 30 creating the Energy Investment Coordinating Council.

It aims to expedite and streamline the implementation of major energy projects with the Department of Energy quickly issuing certificates of Energy Project of National Significance (EPNS) to Atimonan One Energy (A1E) and a number of other power projects in September.

There is reason to the rush. Government is in a hurry to meet its vows anchored on Mr. Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program.

A great deal of power is needed for the construction of new infrastructure.

Roads, bridges, buildings, seaports and airports will not rise and operate on time if our power reserves could not meet the demand.

With the elections coming in May and the campaigns still heating up, the administration could not be complacent with the present reserve. Or these would reflect on government and the administration bets would be asked about the people’s issues water, power, jobs and all things we deem basic but could ignite disenchantment, if not discontent.

This is not lost on Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who last week called on all stakeholders in the power industry to get their acts together and ensure they meet energy demand.

“The entire energy family should take a pro-active approach towards securing our power supply, especially since it is both summer and election season,” Cusi said.

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines, Meralco and the DoE are monitoring the power situation, with the possibility of creating additional power bypass lines, efficient utilization of available power plants, application of demand-side management and accurate information dissemination to consumers being the most urgent steps they have discussed.

But new power plants have to rise soon and President Duterte could be losing much time to do this. He only has three years left in his term.

Even the review of contracts government, including those of previous leaderships, will also take a great deal of time before actions could be taken.

The A1E’s 1,200-megawatt power plant could just be one, although reports say that it received wide support from stakeholders, consumers and communities in Atimonan. It could provide at least double than that of Sual’s.

Cusi had also granted certificates of EPNS to a wind power project on Talim Island in Binangonan and Cardona, Rizal. A geothermal project in Kalinga province will also rise.

As other countries have gone nuclear, the Philippines is still in the middle of debates whether to slowly ditch the use of dirty coal to generate energy.

New technologies have answered concerns about its safety that nuclear energy now deserves a second look as it could provide an answer to our already depleted sources of power.

But we are still a long way to that.

What we could do now is “save, save, save” as we wait for supply to “normalize” or until it can continue servicing X number of people for X number of years, or months.

Just pray it’s not days or we’re doomed with less water and power.

Not powerless

When summer season comes, consumption of electricity naturally spikes up. People need cooler air indoors so there is higher usage of air conditioning and electric fans.

“In other words, power supply in Luzon will be barely enough to meet the expected demand these hot summer months.

Refrigerators are also working overtime.

With our current population, the demand for power is of course higher than ever.

This is why the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) had placed the biggest power grid in the country, the Luzon grid, on yellow alert last in the first week of March.

The yellow alert is NGCP’s second highest alert and is explained as a “system condition in which the reserves are low against high power demand.”

In other words, power supply in Luzon will be barely enough to meet the expected demand these hot summer months.

Reserves — or backup supply — are low, the Department of Energy says, because “power plants on forced or unplanned outages remain inoperational or offline.”

This was the case in 2015 when the Malampaya Natural Gas Facility, which is among Luzon’s primary sources of energy, was shut down for repairs for a month in summer.

The shutdown affected three power plants that supply less than half of Luzon’s energy needs. While two of these were able to source an alternative to continue operations, one remained unable to produce as much power, leading to a shortfall in power reserves.

As energy officials the emphasized, “back-up power is critical when demand exceeds supply.”

They also called for conservation among consumers which they said would somewhat help alleviate the situation.

These conservation calls, sadly, only seem to take up steam when a problem is already there.

People pay attention for a while and go back to their wasteful practices when the crisis is over.

Also, the nitty-gritty of power supply is only understood by most consumers in terms of brownouts, blackouts and electricity rates.

This time, the threat of possible power cuts has been enough to send one in fits of hysterics following the recent water shortage fiasco.

To top it all, consumers have to contend with possible power rate spikes.

Some groups have thus scored government on the inability to provide “contingencies when the grid’s supply suddenly plunges, which results to power rate hikes in the spot market,” as one report says.

This is something that government will need to explain better as people do tend to react more to what they see at the bottom of their electricity bill.

For many, it will be a case of “why am I paying more when they are saying there isn’t enough electricity?” Or “why is there an increase when power has been erratic lately?”

It is too soon to tell if there will indeed be rate hikes due to the recent worrisome yellow alerts, but as some have pointed out, “historically, low reserve level triggers a spike in prices at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market.”

Again, all this only serves to highlight a need for clearer and stronger direction in the power sector.

The Philippines has lagged behind its neighbors in terms of power sources and stability. Like the transport and infrastructure, the power sector has been trying to catch up for decades of stunted growth.

The Duterte administration through the Energy department has been working to tap more sources of energy by easing the process for investors eager to do business in the realm of power generation, transmission and distribution.

Aside from this, the need for environment-friendly and sustainable sources like solar, hydroelectric and wind power has also been put forward.

Renewable sources of energy that are clean and cheap, advocates say, are worth investing on as the population continues to grow for we are still among the Asian countries with steep power rates.

In the past few years, it is obvious that Energy has been energized, so to speak. That is something to remember as we continue to experience some of the effects of problems that fast need solutions as the Philippines speeds up toward an energized and sustainable future.