FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - April 9, 2019 - 12:00am

In energy, as in water, our planning authorities could be running well behind the curve.

We now know why water is being rationed in the Mega Manila area.

The immediate cause was Manila Water selling more than the fresh water allocated the concessionaire from Angat Dam. This caused the La Mesa reservoir to dry up.

The final cause, however, is that for too long we failed to build the dams that will supply the metropolitan area with more raw water. As the population of Mega Manila grows and as it became more affluent, the demand for water grew much faster. We did not need El Niño to bring things to a head.

There is no other long-term solution but to build dams in the Sierra Madre to increase the volume of raw water available to the metropolis. The dams should have been built years ago, but they were not. Our infrastructure planning is constantly myopic.

The leftist groups, always looking for a cause to justify their existence, have been stubbornly resisting the construction of the dams. They claim environmental damage and dislocation of indigenous communities. Neither is soundly established. What is sure is that the straggler communist guerrilla bands still fighting for a lost cause will lose their habitat.


The same leftist groups, flashing their unscientific environmentalist badges, have likewise been fighting to prevent the construction of new power plants to meet rising domestic energy demand.

Over the last two weeks, yellow alerts have been raised as several power plants conked out in the face of higher summertime energy demand. It is conceivable that power, too, could be rationed soon.

This will make the hot months even more intolerable for the 14 million residents of the Mega Manila area. With water and power shortages, we could resemble an Asian version of Venezuela where failed governance produced hell for the whole population.

We all know that the margin between our generation capacity and peak demand has been thinning at an alarming rate. What many of us do not know is that our generating capacity is also rapidly aging.

About 33 percent of our present generating capacity comes from plants operating for 20 years or longer. Many of them are nearing their 25-year lifespans.

The problem of plant aging is even larger. About 60 percent of our power plants have been in continuous operation for 15 years or more. As every vehicle owner knows, at this age the machines are prone to break down. During the hot months, the propensity for equipment failure spikes.

The plant shutdowns we experienced the past two weeks did not happen randomly. Those shutdowns are correlated with the problem of plant aging. With our collection of museum-grade generating plants, expect unholy surprises to happen.

In addition, our old plants are inefficient. They do not meet current standards set by modern high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) technologies available. With a longer planning horizon, we should by now be busy replacing old baseload plants with more modern ones that will generate power more efficiently (therefore cheaper for our consumers) and protect our environment at the same instance.

As dams are the only long-term solution to our water woes, new generating plants are the long-term solution to our rising power woes. We need at least 43,765 MW of additional, efficient and environment-friendly power plants by 2040 to meet our nation’s rising demand.

We cannot sustain our projected high-growth path without building those plants as soon as possible. No investor will bet on an economy with uncertain power supply.

There are no ifs and buts about that.


The previous composition of the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB) ran into all sorts of controversy. Consequently, the previous chair was forced to resign and the commissioners suspended for various reasons.

It is understandable that the present ERC would be shy about making decisions. The agency is tasked with approving new energy projects on the basis of power supply agreements with power distributors.

That mandate might seem plain enough. All the ERC has to do is to make sure power supply agreements are economically sound and fair to the consumers.

Industry players and potential energy investors wonder why its takes too long for the ERC to issue the approvals for new power plants. Many projects remain bottled up because of the ERC’s inaction. Additional costs accrue to investors because of the delay. Those additional costs from commitment fees and others inflate the investments and will eventually have to be charged to consumers.

 While the ERC dilly-dallies, we are all moving closer to power shortages. When those shortages happen, they will undermine investor confidence in our economy and torpedo the high growth rates we aspire for.

Maybe the agency is stymied because of the noisy protests undertaken by leftist groups and the endless court suits they threaten to file. The commissioners must understand that these protests are a cottage industry that produces only noise and offers no solutions to the nation’s energy needs.

The Department of Energy has correctly maintained a technologically neutral stance on the matter of ensuring adequate energy supplies to support our economic expansion. This is a pragmatic policy stance. Any technology that is safe for the environment and makes business and economic sense is welcome.

The really urgent matter remains to be the pace of initiating new power projects.

Power plants are not the easiest things to build. They must clear many hurdles including environmental certification and the consent of communities where the facilities will be located.

What is sure is that we must start building now.

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