As the Department of Energy and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines trade barbs over who’s to blame for the recent series of power outages affecting the Luzon grid, consumers who are already facing intense heat still have to bear the impact of the alleged inability of the DOE to adequately prepare for the expected demand for consistent electricity this summer season.
Why are the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) caught off-guard in the series of the power outages?
That was the question consumers and advocates are now asking the agency as Luzon’s power grid once again went into “red alert” last week, triggering another series of rotational brownouts that affected consumers already bearing the intense summer heat.
On May 8 and 9, residents in certain areas of San Pedro City, which were serviced by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), suddenly experienced a series of power interruptions for two days.
On May 9, too, parts of the service area of the First Laguna Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FLECO), which services the eastern part of Laguna, also experienced unexpected power outages due to the "emergency manual load dropping" of the Lumban-Famy 69-kilovolt (kV) line.
While the power interruptions lasted for only 30 minutes, residents didn’t like that these occurred during the hottest periods of the day — at early afternoon.
“Nakakaapekto sa trabaho at pag-aaral. At sa init ng panahon ngayon, pwedeng magkasakit ang tao kapag wala pang kuryente,” was how Reanne, a resident, told OpinYon Laguna.
Affected businesses, particularly those in the food service sector, were also concerned about how the power outages will affect their livelihood.
"Ang pinag-aalala po namin ay baka malugi po kami kung laging ganito, dahil mahal ang ingredients namin," Cristel Salvador, a cake maker, told OpinYon Laguna.
"Handa naman po kami dahil hindi naman po agad-agad matutunaw yung mga product namin, pero kapag tumagal na po talaga yung brownout ay baka masira, lalo na't wala pa po kaming generator dito sa store namin.”
Power outages experienced by San Pedro City’s residents were, according to the NGCP, caused by an unexpected tripping of its Bolo-Masinloc 230 kV Line 2 last Monday.
This meant that two (315 MW each) of three units of the Masinloc power plant also tripped, taking 630 MW off the Luzon power grid.
Since there were other power plants on outages, the total loss to the power grid reached 1,354 MW, forcing the NGCP to raise a red alert status over the Luzon grid that afternoon.
Instead of assuring consumers that steps have been taken to resolve the recent series of power outages, DOE officials went into blame mode as they claimed delays in the implementation of certain projects caused the current dearth in power supply.
On May 9 – the day Lagunenses once again experienced unexpected power outages – DOE undersecretary Rowena Guevara claimed that delays in the completion of major power projects, including the 1,200- MW Ilijan gas-fired plant in Batangas province and the 600-MW Hermosa-San Jose Line in Bataan, were factors in the current power supply shortage.
Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla also faulted the NGCP for allegedly failing to complete long-delayed transmission projects that will interconnect power plants to the main grid.
The secretary added that the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has already conducted an initial audit on NGCP's operations, focusing on its financial capabilities.
"We will follow that through with a regulatory performance audit which is conducted by the ERC and by a contract performance review which is to be conducted by PSALM (Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp.) and Transco (National Transmission Corp.) as the counterparties to the NGCP in the concession agreement," he said.
Some public officials and consumer advocates, on the other hand, have this question to the DOE and the NGCP: whatever happened to their long-term plans that, way back in 2022, they claim to have put in place to avoid a scenario of frequent rotating brownouts?
“Taon-taon na lang problema ang blackouts at kakulangan ng suplay. Taon-taon na rin pinananawagan sa DOE at NGCP na kumilos sila pero bakit parang wala pa ring nangyayari? Both of these agencies should step up and put an end to this energy crisis once and for all,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a recent press release.
“Dapat maging tapat ang DOE at NGCP tungkol sa kondisyon ng power supply at ano ang aasahan ng milyun-milyong konsyumer sa mga susunod na araw at buwan. Baka mangako na naman na gaganda ang sitwasyon pero puro blackouts at taas-singil pa rin. Our consumers deserve to be informed and notified. Hindi bibiglain na naman,” she added.
Other consumer advocates believe that the government should have taken steps to solve the current power shortage supply before the problem snowballs into a massive power outage similar to what Filipinos had experienced in the early 1990’s.
For one thing, labor leader Padjo Valdenor explained, the current issues regarding the country’s power supply threatens to derail the Marcos administration’s push for digitalization in the government and business sectors.
“Paano natin maaayos ang ating digitalization at connectivity na siya ngayong itinutulak ng Marcos administration kung yung problema natin sa kuryente na siya ring nagpapatakbo ng ating Internet connection ay ni hindi natin maresolba? E halos lahat ng ating mga pang-araw-araw na aktibidad ay ginagawa na natin sa pamamagitan ng Internet, maging business transactions gaya ng pagbabayad ng ating mga pangunahing bilihin,” was how he explained it in an interview with OpinYon Laguna.