Mindanao blackouts worsen with Pulangi hydro plant rehab

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – The daily blackouts here and nearby South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces have stretched to four hours on Thursday as Mindanao’s power deficit increased to 276 megawatts (MW) due to the ongoing rehabilitation of the National Power Corporation’s (Napocor) Pulangi IV hydroelectric plant in Bukidnon.

Engr. Joseph Yanga, South Cotabato II Electric Cooperative (Socoteco II) technical services supervisor, said they were forced to extend the rotating brownouts in the area to four hours from the previous three hours and 15 minutes due to the additional power supply cuts imposed by the Napocor and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

From its average contracted supply of 72 MW, he said Napocor further reduced the area’s allocation earlier this month to 54 MW or 51 MW short from its 105 MW peak requirement.

Aboitiz-owned Therma Marine Inc. augments the area’s requirement by 30 MW based on a supply contract earlier forged by Socoteco II.

“(But) for today, the Napocor is only giving us 45 MW. That leaves us short by 30 MW so we really have no other choice but extend the rotating brownouts,” Yanga told MindaNews.

Based on an advisory issued by Socoteco II’s institutional services department, it would implement the rotating brownouts in four phases from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. based on the distribution of its 44 feeder stations.

Socoteco II serves this city, the entire Sarangani province and the municipalities of Tupi and Polomolok in South Cotabato.

NGCP imposed drastic load cuts since February due to the rising power supply shortage in Mindanao that reportedly stemmed from the dwindling capacity of the Napocor’s hydroelectric plants in Bukinon and Lanao del Norte.

As of 6 a.m. Thursday, the NGCP said Mindanao’s system capacity only stands at 955 MW or 276 MW short from its peak demand of 1,231 MW.

The electric cooperative, which has been implementing two-hour daily rotating brownouts since last month, initially issued an advisory increasing the power curtailments to three hours and 15 minutes last Tuesday until the end of the month due to the scheduled shutdown of the Pulangi plant to undergo a month-long repair and rehabilitation.

Yanga said they have scrapped the previous advisory and will instead issue daily notices to its consumers due to the uncertainty of the Napocor’s power generation capacity.

“The allocations from the Napocor and NGCP presently changes on a daily basis and there were also unanticipated supply fluctuations happening from time to time within the Mindanao grid,” he said.

He cited, as example, the cutoff from the Mindanao power grid of the 55-MW bunker fired power station of the Southern Philippines Power Corp. (SPPC) based in Alabel, Sarangani that covers for a portion of the Napocor’s power supplies to the area.

Yanga said they expect the area’s power situation to stabilize towards the end of May when the rehabilitation of Pulangi IV will be completed.

By then, he said the Napocor committed to restore the area’s allocation to 72 MW and increase it further to 74 MW by July.

In Davao City, Davao Light and Power Co. (DLPC) said it may result into a 30-minute daily power interruption if Napocor increases the load curtailment assigned to the distribution company.

DLPC has a 50MW diesel-fired standby power plant and has also purchased 30MW from the Sibulan and Tamugan hydro plants. DLPC and both the 26MW Sibulan and the 4MW Tamugan hydroelectric plants are owned by the Aboitizes.

In a press statement Wednesday, DLPC said it will result into rotating brownouts once the deficiency in the Mindanao grid reaches 320MW. So far, Davao City has been spared by power interruptions.

In Cotabato province, where the 100MW Mt. Apo Geothermal Power Plant is located, the rotating brownouts are even longer – from six to eight hours.

The same situation is being experienced by Bukidnon residents.

Bukidnon Second Electric Cooperative (Buseco) general manager Edgar Masongsong said their supply from Napocor has been reduced to 8MW. He said they are now negotiating for an additional 7MW from Therma Marine Inc. on top of the 5MW they have already contracted. Daily load demand in his franchise area, however, is from a low of 17MW to 23MW.

Masongsong said they now are forced to cut power supply from six to eight hours in the areas covered by their two sub-stations.

In Iligan city, the Iligan Light and Power, Inc. had earlier announced a two-hour rotating brownout once Pulangi IV is shut down. But power interruptions started only today (Wednesday).

In 2010, most of Mindanao also suffered from rotating brownouts of up to nine hours due to the prolonged dry season, when the water level in Lake Lanao dropped to below critical levels.

Fifty-three percent of Mindanao’s power supply comes from the Agus and Pulangi hydroelectric plants, which have a combined installed capacity of more than 900MW. But their actual capacities were reduced to less than 600MW due to poor maintenance and heavy silt (in the case of Pulangi River).

Business leaders and industry players have repeatedly warned that Mindanao will suffer massive power interruptions if no new capacities will be added to the existing available capacities by 2014. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews with reports from Edwin Espejo, contributor)