Mindanao’s power situation improves but…

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/09 April) – Fewer areas in Mindanao are now experiencing power outages, a development that the Department of Energy attributed to a Department circular that aims to rationalize the power supply in the region. But a lawmaker said this would mean higher rates for consumers, as the additional “expensive power” is being purchased from privatized power barges at P14 per kilowatt hour (kwh).

FOR DREDGING Two boys rest their banca on an island formed by silt that has accumulated in many parts of the artificial lake in Maramag, Bukidnon. The lake, built by the National Power Corporation during the Marcos years, has become shallow due to silt and is up for dredging in a bid to restore its usual power generating capacity. MindaNews file photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno“The Department of Energy (DOE) stresses that not all areas in Mindanao have power outages such as the areas of Cotabato, Panabo, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and Davao. With the issuance of the Circular, areas not experiencing interruptions now include Malaybalay, Dipolog, Dapitan, Valencia, Camiguin, Panabo, Digos, Tagum, Mati, Cotabato, Surigao, Butuan, and Cabadbaran,” it said in a statement issued on April 3.

The DOE said DC 2012-03-0004 directs electric cooperatives to nominate their needed power to supply their demands.

“This now results to less power outage for provinces in Mindanao and current power supply deficit of 100–160 MW from 360 MW during the previous months. However, the DOE continues to monitor its implementation to ensure strict compliance to the Circular among stakeholders,” the agency said in the same statement.

But Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño today said Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras has ordered Mindanao electric cooperatives last week to buy “expensive power” from privatized power barges at P14 per kwh, with government shouldering the P9/kwh diesel cost.

The secretary also reportedly ordered local government officials to immediately approve the environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) for at least two new coal fired power plants in Mindanao.

The approval of ECCs is a function of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Casiño said this could mean “the upcoming Mindanao Power Summit was already a done deal, with agreements to jack up power rates in Mindanao and put up environmentally-hazardous coal plants already sealed during a pre-summit meeting organized by the Department of Energy last week.”

“If that is the case then the power summit would just be a rubber stamp for DOE circular 2012-03-0004 which forces consumers to pay an additional 50 to 80 centavos per kWh for their electricity due to the manipulations of favored private power generators like Therma Marine Inc. owned by the Aboitizes, ” he said.

“The summit is also meant to convince the people of Mindanao of the supposed need to deploy more coal-fired and diesel power plants despite Mindanao’s abundance in clean and renewable energy sources,” he added.

The lawmaker said he found it strange that government is willing to subsidize diesel power at P9/kWh when it would be cheaper and sustainable to subsidize solar and other renewable energy sources.

“Is there a conspiracy to ram fossil-fuel power as the solution? Would this not reduce the power summit to a farce, giving Mindanao consumers no choice but to stick to more expensive, dirty, non-renewable power?” Casiño asked.

Almendras had earlier denied the DOE was conniving with private companies causing the current power situation in Mindanao.

“We are not siding with anyone but just highlighting the truth of the situation. One such truth is that our actions have resulted in revenue reduction for some corporations clearly proving that we are not favoring big business,” the secretary said in a statement issued last month.

The DOE further said in its April 3 statement that it may also consider other solutions such as the operation of the Iligan Diesel Power Plant, which will be able to produce an initial power of 15–20 MW that may increase upon rehabilitation, and the improvements of the Agus and Pulangui hydropower plants.

It said the Pulangui plant will be rehabilitated this month, and the DOE is already studying ways on how to mitigate its effect on the power supply. The Agus plant, however, will be rehabilitated in June.

In a statement dated April 4, the DOE said it had received 69 bids for 38 coal areas in its fourth Philippine Energy Contracting Round (PECR4) for coal last March 30, 2012, in line with its “thrust to explore, develop, and utilize indigenous energy resources.”

“The number of applicants is overwhelming and is obviously a testament to the confidence of investors in the Aquino administration. We look forward to harnessing our indigenous coal resources to reduce our reliance on imports,” Energy Undersecretary Jay Layug said.

Among the coal areas where there are multiple bids are in Bislig and Lingig in Surigao del Sur, Layug said.

But  Casiño accused the DOE of “blackmailing” Mindanao consumers into paying for “expensive, fossil-fuel based power or nothing at all.”

“What makes Mindanao different from Visayas and Luzon is its rich potential for renewable energy – from solar, hydro, geothermal to biomass. Why not tap these instead of the more expensive and dirty fossil fuel technologies?” he stressed.

He described the impact of the government’s solution as heavy. “In terms of price, its P50-P80 additional for those who consume 100 kWh per month, P100-P160 for those who consume 200 kWh and so forth. This is on top of the approved increase by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for Napocor generation rates.” (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)