News Commentary

Power to the people

Kit Belmonte - Philstar.com
Power to the people
Stock image of electrical linemen.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos, File photo

What is worse than this infernal weather, with the heat index surging to the mid-40s, threatening people’s health and well-being, and causing either the suspension of classes or a shift to synchronous or asynchronous modes of learning?

The answer is easy, albeit uncomfortable: Having a power outage.

Several times last week, the Luzon and Visayas power grids were placed under red or yellow alert, according to the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines. There is a red alert status when the power supply is insufficient to meet consumer demand and the transmission grid’s regulating requirement. Meanwhile, there is a yellow alert when the operating margin is insufficient to meet the transmission grid’s contingency requirement. 

With the continued heat anticipated in the coming days, prospects look dim for those banking on a consistent and reliable power supply. In these instances, everyone – individuals, households, communities, public and private organizations, industries, and the economy – suffers. The suffering is at least on two fronts: lost momentum, and too-high energy prices that put a dent on finances. 

But last week’s disruptions are just one of the recent instances of an apparent power shortage. Across the country, local government units have been grappling with their respective situations for a long time.

In Batangas and Laguna, for instance, LGU officials have called out their distribution utilities (DUs) for deplorable services. In some municipalities, both private citizens and business owners have complained that frequent outages have been damaging their equipment and appliances, leading to their desire to replace the DUs that serve their areas. 

Imagine, too, enduring what Occidental Mindoro went through, with its 20-hour daily power outages that prompted the declaration of a state of calamity. Lawmakers had to intervene in a long-standing power crisis to address the problem at its core. 

In Pampanga, cases have been filed against BATELEC 1 for poor services. Six mayors in the province have also asked the Energy Regulatory Commission to intervene with regard to the high power rates of Pampanga Electric Cooperative 3 (PELCO 3). 

For a country like the Philippines that depends on the smooth and seamless functioning of its industries, power shortages are a bane whatever the weather – and wherever. 

This is especially true in high-growth areas, which are provinces experiencing growth rates faster than the national growth in Gross Domestic Product. These places must be given ample support in terms of energy infrastructure so that they could live up to their potential and become as economically dynamic as Metro Manila. 

The country’s acknowledged economic powerhouses in terms of GDP per capita are Laguna, Cavite, and Batangas. Pampanga is also an economic driver of Central Luzon, with its sizable contribution to the regional GDP. But in terms of annual growth that surpassed the national GDP growth, the provinces deemed high growth are Aklan, Nueva Vizcaya, Davao Oriental, Sorsogon, Batanes, Zambales, Romblon, Bulacan, Tarlac, and Kalinga.

The Metro-manila area, serviced by Meralco, is of course the most productive region of the country with very few power outages. 

Around the country, there are around 20 private DUs and 121 electric cooperatives. We must note that the performance and quality of these providers are neither even nor consistent. Thus, the mismatch has to be addressed and corrected. 

No less than Energy Secretary Lotilla, in his remarks during the anniversary of the National Electrification Administration last year, called out the electric cooperatives that were performing poorly and asked them to shape up. 

Then again, it does not have to be the Energy Secretary alone to ensure that DUs give consumers – which pertains essentially to all Philippine residents – their due. Consumers themselves must make their sentiments heard and felt. They can act on their own, or their LGUs and government representatives can speak for them and magnify their message. If the DUs are no longer serving their purpose, then what is stopping the people from clamoring for better service, and if it is necessary, a change in the service provider?

After all, the future of the economy, local or national, hinges on how well its industries are run. And for everything to run, power is the essential, underlying service. 

Provinces must be enabled to thrive. They should not have to suffer the consequences of poor management, inefficiency and inadequacy. Everyone is entitled to stable, reliable, and affordable electricity services. 

One way to address this is to encourage smaller electric cooperatives to improve their services through joint venture agreements with established DUs with extensive experience and proven track records.

For a distribution utility to be responsive to the growing demand of these high growth areas, there should be consistent investment in upgrading infrastructures such as substations, transformers, and distribution lines. Regular and preventive maintenance measures should be part of the service routine to minimize downtime. Back up equipment and quick reaction teams should be ready to address emergency repairs. Upgrading antiquated power networks with smart grid technologies will enable DUs real-time monitoring and control of their franchise areas, reduce leakages, optimize power distribution, and enhance reliability of their services.

Parallel to infrastructure investments, is the high level of expertise of the engineers, technicians and other personnel needed to ensure efficient operations, network maintenance, and expansion to meet growing demand.

DU services should be customer centric, always prioritizing their customers’ needs with relevant information and responsiveness to complaints and feedback.

These are basic requisites that, as customers, we should demand from the DU we are paying.

The country’s high-growth areas deserve to be given the opportunity to realize their potential without roadblocks that would impede their progress. If DUs are not able to respond to the need, there must be a way to do justice to these areas’ efforts to grow instead of letting their potential go to waste.


Kit Belmonte is a co-convenor at CitizenWatch Philippines.

vuukle comment




  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with