Moving up to the next level

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Just when you have given up on the ability of Filipino officials to run a clean government able to produce visible economic progress, here comes Iloilo City providing more than a flicker of hope that kaya pala natin ‘yan. To be sure, Iloilo City is not yet quite Singapore, but there is a very strong ambition among its leaders in government and business to get to that next level as soon as possible.

I was in Iloilo early this week, my first visit after the pandemic, and I was impressed to see unmistakable signs of progress that have happened over the last five years. Iloilo was already looking good in my pre-pandemic visit, but they used the pandemic downtime to make Iloilo possibly the best-managed LGU today.

It is not just about their esplanade and the now clean Iloilo River. I saw those the last time I was there. The Megaworld Business Park in the old Iloilo airport looks better planned and managed than BGC. Traffic flows smoother, and the road network takes into account pedestrians and bicycle riders. It has a more livable feel than Metro Manila developments. With Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas’ determination to make it easy for investors to do business, an economic boom is in its future.

Unfortunately, the impediments for making Iloilo more attractive to business are out of the mayor’s control. One is a dependable power supply, and the other is a decent airport. Those are in the hands of national government officials.

After those crippling power blackouts early this year, NGCP successfully energized the P52-billion Mindanao-Visayas Interconnection project (MVIP), a landmark undertaking connecting the power grids of Visayas and Mindanao. The MVIP will provide a more reliable and sustainable transmission service as well as promote energy resource sharing.

Additional power supply stability will be provided by NGCP’s Cebu-Negros-Panay (CNP) backbone project, composed of CNP Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 and the Negros-Panay Interconnection Project Line 2. The inauguration last March 30 of a new 230 kV transmission backbone to support the existing 138 kV facilities will result in faster and more efficient power sharing.

Panay Island has four large coal power plants with a total capacity of 452.4 megawatts (MW) and nine smaller diesel/bunker and renewables with a total capacity of 220.3 MW. The four coal-fired power plants are: Panay Energy Development Corp. (PEDC) 1 providing 83.7 MW, PEDC 2 with 83.7 MW, PEDC 3 with 150 MW, and Palm Concepcion Power Corp. (PCPC) with 135 MW.

In a briefing that More Power, the local distribution utility, gave me, I was told that Iloilo City’s peak demand is just 147 MW. Even if the 150 MW PEDC was on maintenance shutdown, there was still 370 MW to cover 147 MW. But when one more 150 MW power plant went down, all the other power plants in Panay tripped (a protection mechanism). Then the submarine cable from Negros tripped too because it had insufficient capacity at that time and caused a total Panay blackout.

One of the business leaders who joined me at the briefing suggested that DOE should order NGCP to have ancillary or reserve power from within Panay Island because that could have saved them. Right now, the ancillary comes from Cebu, and I was told that it could get into a “traffic” jam on the grid because of the heavy renewables traffic (solar) in Negros that by law must be dispatched first.

Ricky Razon’s More Power seems to be having a love affair with the city residents. They are now getting more reliable and quality power due to increased capex for a long overdue modernization of the system. It also claims to have the lowest retail electricity rate in the country. More Power is expanding to Bacolod and Tagbilaran soon.

As for the airport, the JICA-financed airport now looks rundown with hardly any air conditioning during these punishingly hot El Niño days. The airport is a pet peeve of Mayor Treñas because his potential investors always complain about it.

I checked with CAAP, the agency managing it, and I am told that they have four air con chillers running, one is new and three are old but clearly not enough. They ordered three new chillers from Japan to be delivered next month. They are procuring three more. They are also procuring new elevators and escalators and will renovate the terminal too. I understand they couldn’t respond to the airport’s needs because it took four to five months for the funds in their budget to be transferred to their account.

If only they privatized the Iloilo Airport earlier! Manny Villar made an unsolicited bid for it during Duterte’s time, but DOTr under Art Tugade sat on it. I guess Art was careful because Manny is a very influential politician with no experience in running airports. People might say it was rushed because of Manny’s political ties with Duterte, a senator-wife, and a DPWH Secretary-son.

Now I heard that the Aboitiz Group is interested in making a Swiss Challenge to Manny’s bid if and when DOTr calls for it. It is a busy airport. The delay in privatization means the airport will continue to hinder Iloilo’s progress for a year or more.

In another hopeful development, Iloilo will soon have a BRT system. Mayor Treñas announced negotiations with First Balfour, a Lopez Group subsidiary, to develop an electric-powered transport system to support the city’s transformation into one of the country’s most livable and highly urbanized cities.

The integrated transportation project will deploy a fleet of electric buses to potentially be a bus rapid transit system. The provision of an efficient mass transport system will also reduce vehicle volume on the road, ultimately helping to address traffic congestion and air pollution in the city.

Hopefully, this proposed BRT project gets going as an LGU-PPP for faster implementation. The Cebu-Cordova bridge project was an LGU-PPP, and the reduction of red tape in the approval process resulted in earlier completion.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on X @boochanco

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