TARGET PRACTICE: How ready is the NGCP? Carmelito Q. Francisco

2nd of a series

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/19 April) — The two main blackouts that plunged Mindanao into darkness in the last two years showed how vulnerable the Mindanao power grid has become.

Among the many implications is the readiness of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP), the privately-owned grid operator of the country which bought the transmission system from government when it was bidded out in 2008 as part of complying with the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.

In both incidents, the Henry Sy-led grid operator acted clumsily to say the least.  On the February 27, 2014 blackout, the company played a blame-game with generating company Steag State Corp., each accusing the other of being the reason for the incident.

On the one hand, NGCP claimed that had not the Steag plant conked out, the grid would not have given up. But the generating company said had the grid operator been able to fill in the gaps that it left, power would have been restored in no time.

One huge indicator was that NGCP’s reserve was anchored on the Agus 1 power plant, which at that time had to undergo repair. So when the Steag 105-megawatt power unit started dropping its capacity, NGCP could not tap its reserve power unit. So in a span of eight seconds, Mindanao went down without power.

This even prompted Vicente T. Lao, chair of the Mindanao Business Council, to ask the grid operator to secure a stable power reserve or build its own plant just so it can have a reliable power reserve.

Of course, the grid operator brushed aside the call mainly because the law favors it as under the outdated Grid Code of the Philippines, the grid operator only has to secure 4% of the capacity to serve as its reserve. The national government has not even compelled it to secure a stable power consider that the performance of Agus 1 power plant, being part of the hydroelectric power complex, depends on the water level of Lanao lake which becomes erratic especially during drought.

It does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that under an ideal situation, the reserve plant should be at least equal to the biggest plant in the grid in capacity. At present, the biggest plant is that of the Steag plant at 105.

The biggest capacity will in the next two months change when Therma South Inc. starts the commercial operations of its first unit which is 150 megawatts.

 

Readiness

The entry of the new power unit also signals the new era in the Mindanao power industry. Within the next four years, new power plants are expected to go online with Mindanao getting stable power supply if the generating capacity is the main consideration

Which brings the question of whether the grid, particularly its operator, is ready or not. If what it has been doing becomes the barometer for its readiness, then it needs to shape up bigtime. It needs to invest more because, logically, the more power coming into the grid, the bigger the grid capacity should be.

Several years ago, the company completed the redundancy system which addresses the need for another backbone if the first one malfunctions. But there is no dramatic investments in reinforcing the current system so that when all these new plants start throwing power into the grid, it is ready for the punch or it will get knocked out.

There is an industry joke that if China wants to sabotage the Philippines, it should only tap the NGCP mainly because among its owners is the State Grid Corp. of China, a state-run company which is among the biggest power utilities in the world.

So is the grid operator ready for the entry of new generating powr plants? This remains to be seen, but if the recent events are to be considered, its readiness is wanting. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Carmelito Q. Francisco is managing editor of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times)

(Next: Of pseudo cooperatives and power aggregation)

  • Fact Checker

    You are incorrect regarding the reserve requirements. The 4% is for load following and frequency control, in addition there are two categories of reserve based on the output of the largest two units which are designed to keep the grid operating in circumstances like the Steag outage. The problem is, with the current shortage of supply, it doesn’t make sense to keep this capacity for reserves if it results in load shedding, it’s better to use it for supplying the needed energy.