The real red alert
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 3, 2019 - 12:00am

There is actually no reason for public panic over the latest “yellow alert” issued by the National Grid Corp. (NGCP) in their Luzon-serviced areas grid. This is just about possible interruption due to the thin power supply reserves. If a 1,000-megawatt (MW) capacity is taken off from the supply grid, the available reserves of 400-MW will not be enough to compensate any breakdown or unexpected shutdown of any major power base load plant. That is simply the meaning of the “yellow alert.”

In fact, the “yellow alert” is the lowest level of the power supply alert system.

The NGCP has been issuing the “yellow alert” already the past few weeks along with the Manila Water Co. This was at the height of the latter’s water supply interruptions last month to their east zone customers in Metro Manila. The NGCP “yellow alert” was in relation to the fact that hydroelectric power plants could not function to full capacity due to low water level at Angat dam and in other water dam sources as reserve for electricity supply.

The NGCP is a privately owned company in charge of operation, maintenance and development of the power lines. Henry Sy Jr. of the SM Group and Robert Coyuito Jr. are the majority shareholders of 60% of the NGCP while the State Grid Corp. of China owns 40% as technical partner.

The NGCP “yellow alert” status was even doused, if not downplayed yesterday by the Department of Energy (DOE). The NGCP placed the Luzon grid on yellow alert from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. yesterday. It clarified the “yellow alert” does not necessarily lead to power outages or blackout.

The NGCP explained this was “due to insufficient operating reserve brought about by the high demand and the forced outage” of some power plants. As reported to the NGCP, Unit 3 of the Pagbilao coal plant (420 MW) went on forced outage yesterday. Meanwhile, other plants still on unplanned shutdown are Masinloc 2 (344 MW), Pagbilao 1 (382 MW), SLTEC 1 (150 MW), and Malaya 2 (350 MW).

The other plants serving the Luzon grid but have de-rated capacity are Calaca coal-plant 2 at 200 MW (from 300 MW) and SLPGC 2 at 100 MW (from 150 MW).

The DOE headed by Secretary Alfonso Cusi announced last month the power supply projection point to stable electricity during the summer months despite the El Niño phenomenon. The DOE cited there are additional capacities available from existing baseload plants.

According to the DOE, these additional capacities in the Luzon grid will be 571.2 MW until July. This will come from the 150-MW coal fired power plant in Limay, Bataan; 5-MW biomass plant in Isabela; 300-MW coal-fired power plant in Masinloc, Zambales; 1.2-MW FQBG biomass plant; and 115-MW solar plant in Conception, Tarlac. These will augment the Luzon power supply when two big power plants undergo maintenance until April.

From April 5 to June 13, DOE disclosed, the reserve capacity in Luzon will be below the required dispatchable level. Naturally, this would again be the basis to issue a “yellow alert” status on the grid. Based on the DOE’s projection, the Luzon grid is expected to reach peak demand of 11,403 MW around May this year.

No worries though on power interruptions during the mid-term elections taking place in our country this May, the DOE reassured the public. To ensure enough supply during the mid-term elections in May, the DOE has already directed power generators not to schedule nor conduct preventive maintenance repair a week before and after the May 13 polls.

Incidentally, our friends from Globe Telecom also alerted us about their own repair schedule of microwave towers starting this month until June for Northern Luzon. So we cautioned them not to cause interruptions of telco services during the election period, lest they be accused by conspiracy theorists of election sabotage of transmission of the results of votes.

What is more alarming than the “yellow alert” of the NGCP is the expected ruling to be handed down by the Court of Appeals (CA) anytime this week. The CA previously ruled against the appeal to stop the power prices increase in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) that took effect during the Malampaya gas-fired plant shutdown in 2013. That CA ruling junked the petition of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and consumers’ groups. The petitions filed for motion for reconsideration of this CA ruling to overturn their previous ruling that would effectively allow P4.15 per kilowatthour (kwh) rate increase being charged to us electric users despite the long hours of Luzon-wide blackouts. During that period when the Malampaya plant went into unscheduled preventive maintenance, it disrupted the electricity supply and caused Luzon-wide rotating blackouts.

Acting on a separate petition on Dec. 23, 2013, the Supreme Court (SC) issued a 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the collection of higher power rates. The SC partially granted the urgent motion of petitioners led by then Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Isagani Zarate to extend the TRO before it expired on Feb. 23, 2014. The petitioners asked the High Court for indefinite period of the TRO pending the final resolution of the case.

The SC also issued another TRO enjoining generation companies and power suppliers from demanding and collecting generation charges from Meralco. The order covered generating companies Masinloc Power Partners Co. Ltd., San Miguel Energy Corp., South Premiere Power Corp., First Gas Power Corp., and the NGCP as well as the state-run Philippine Electricity Market Corp. (PEMC).

But there is still hope that the case might likely be elevated by the ERC and Meralco to appeal the CA ruling before the High Court to reverse it in their favor. That is if our government lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General representing the ERC would really do their homework in trying to uphold consumers’ rights and public welfare.

Once the ruling is final and executory, not even a red alert can stop the higher power rate hike.

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