Mindanao power woes resolved in 2015, but...

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The power crisis in Mindanao is expected to be significantly resolved beginning in 2015, but President Aquino reiterated yesterday that consumers should prepare to pay higher rates.

He assured the people that the government is working on a mechanism that would help power distribution utilities buy diesel-fed electric generating plants as a stop-gap measure.

Aquino told reporters that the Department of Energy presented plans to resolve the crisis by 2015, but this would entail higher power rates for consumers.

He said the energy supply, including surplus power, would be sufficient for the needs of Mindanao residents.

Diesel power plants were seen as the quickest remedy to the Mindanao power problem as these could be set up in six months to one year, the President said in an ambush interview during his inspection of a port, airport, and bus terminal yesterday in preparation for the Holy Week.

“That one year includes four months of procurement by the government,” he said. “So we’re working on the mechanism to bring these distribution utilities to generators.”

He stressed that the government is working on an immediate, lawful solution and his administration did not want shortcuts by way of declaring a state of emergency.

“The state of emergency will only help in terms of expediting the procurement. Now, we don’t want to rush this too much that there might be shortcuts in the laws, then COA (Commission on Audit) will say these are all not allowed,” he said.

He said they wanted to start everything right following rules, regulations and laws to make the solutions permanent.

The government response is also intended to make sure that the upcoming elections will not be affected and all the voting precincts will have enough power to transmit all the election results, he said.

It takes between three to four years to set up the power plants, he said, noting that the earliest target is about 300 megawatts from coal-fired power plants by 2015. Similar plants will also start going online after that until 2017, he explained.

Also augmenting the insufficiency of power in Mindanao is the Iligan diesel power plant, which has been operating and returning to its rated capacity, he said.

Asked how long Mindanao residents would wait before the remedial measure would take effect, the President said the public must understand that the current administration inherited a problem that would need long-term solutions.

He said there was over reliance on hydroelectric power and many power plants in Mindanao have to be repaired to provide the usual energy supply.

In Naga City last week, the President said putting up diesel-powered plants would need action from Congress through a joint resolution to authorize the government purchase.

Congress may authorize, through a joint resolution, the establishment of additional generating capacity under Republic Act No. 9136 or the Electrical Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) law, “upon the determination by the President of the Philippines of an imminent shortage of the supply of electricity.”

Lawmakers, however, are on a break for the campaign period. They will resume session on June 5 to 7 to wrap up work of the 15th Congress. The 16th Congress will convene on July 22.

“So we’re working on the mechanism, fine-tuning it, so we can bring these generators to distribution utilities. So that, in turn, will give us enough to really ease to a large degree the energy shortage in Mindanao,” Aquino said.

But the President said electricity rates would inevitably increase because hydropower would be blended with other sources like diesel.

“The diesel entails expenses. So power rates in Mindanao will increase because the choice is: will the power rates increase or there will be no power at all? Most of those we talked to understood that rates must go up and they would accept that rather than nothing,” Aquino said.

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