by Alena Mae S. Flores | April 29, 2022 | Published by Manila Standard | READ THE STORY HERE

Despite government assurances to the contrary, rotating brownouts are likely during and after the national elections on May 9, a climate and energy policy group said Thursday.

The group, the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), said forced shutdowns of baseload coal power plants continue to occur less than two weeks before the elections.

“The latest data shows that the GOMP (grid operating and maintenance program) is not being followed as multiple coal plants still experience unplanned shutdowns,” said ICSC chief data scientist Jephraim Manansala.

Manansala said the Department of Energy (DOE) highlighted in January that the key to averting the looming blackouts during and after the election period is to strictly follow the approved GOMP.

Just this month, the DOE called on generation companies and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) to ensure the country has enough power supply by holding off maintenance activities one week before and after May 9.

He said coal plants are not allowed to have planned and scheduled outages from March 26 until June, according to the approved GOMP 2022-2024.

However, 12 out of 23 coal plants in Luzon have experienced shutdowns after March 25, and two were still down as of Wednesday, Manansala said.

In the initial findings of the “Luzon Power Outlook: Determining the Adequacy of Power Supply for April-June 2022” report which ICSC launched in February, the climate and energy policy group warned that a deficit of 1,335 megawatts (MW) in the country’s power supply can materialize in the second quarter.

This will lead to a red alert status, possible rotating blackouts, and an increase in power rates in the Luzon grid, the group said.

Based on the latest developments in the status of coal power plants, ICSC said it is standing by its projections despite the DOE and NGCP stating that the country has enough power for the coming election.

ICSC said the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) issued a resolution in November 2020 showing the maximum allowed planned and unplanned outages for coal-fired power plants in a year.

Pulverized coal power plants are allowed a total of 44.7 days of shutdowns (27.9 planned, 16.8 unplanned) while circulating fluidized bed (CFB) coal plants, which use newer technologies, are only allowed 32.3 days of shutdowns (15.4 planned, 16.9 unplanned).

In the first four months, ICSC said four coal plants have already exceeded the annual limit set by ERC.

“If these coal plants continue to experience unplanned shutdowns in the following weeks, the possibility of blackouts during the elections will be much greater as we predicted last February,” Manansala added.

Alberto Dalusung III, the energy transition advisor of ICSC, pointed out that blended generation costs, which account for around half of the electric bills of Filipinos, have been rising in recent months, particularly for coal.

ICSC called on the national government, businesses, and families to do their share in preventing power supply shortages and brownouts in May.

At the household level, ICSC said Filipinos can contribute by reducing their use of electric appliances, especially those with high wattage, during peak demand hours, or from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We have to look at the power situation beyond the elections and come up with solutions to modernize the grid in the long run. Meralco has already taken a major step with their recent announcement to invest and roll out smart meters in the next four years, which can help provide consumers with information to help manage their consumption,” said Pedro Maniego Jr., senior policy advisor of ICSC.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Independent Power Producers Association, Inc. (PIPPA) called on all power industry players to collaborate in mitigating and preventing the negative effects of the forecast thin reserves margin in May and June.

“Our members have accelerated maintenance schedules of our power plants in anticipation of this event, and we are committed to follow the Grid Operating and Maintenance Program,” the group said in a statement.

“We reiterate our request for the system operator to have sufficient contracted Ancillary Reserves because this is necessary to support the transmission capacity and energy from resources to loads as mandated by the Department of Energy,” PIPPA said.

It noted that during these times, the Interruptible Load Program (ILP) “plays an important role in supporting our energy sufficiency system.”

PIPPA thanked the active participation of distribution utilities like Manila Electric Co. and large power customers in ensuring the ILP is a success.

“Collectively, this demand-side management program can reduce electricity drawn from the grid and help avert power interruptions when grid power reserves are most critical,” the group said.

“We emphasize that the supply and demand shocks expected this summer can be alleviated by greater interconnection of different power production areas to demand centers,” PIPPA said.

PIPPA said some transmission bottlenecks will have to be addressed, such as the more than 1000 MW of stranded capacity in Luzon (Bataan and Pagbilao) due to transmission line limitations.

“By having more sufficient capacity transmission lines and assets, we will be able to unlock the potential of exporting and importing power amongst the different islands and ensure that our country achieves its developmental goals economically,” the group said.

It said Mindanao is expected to have a power supply surplus of more than 1,000MW in summer, but it is unable to export this to Visayas and Luzon since the Mindanao grid is not yet connected to the rest of the country.

“There are hundreds of MW of stranded capacity in Cebu, Negros and Panay, mostly from renewable energy sources, which could be put to good use if the transmission lines are fully operational,” it said.

Photo: Haru1/envato