What will happen for sure come summer of 2015 is that vast areas of the country will once again be plunged into darkness. The only unknown is how often and for how long.
The reason, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jericho Petilla says, is a looming power crisis.
This brings back to mind the country’s debilitating power crisis during the presidency of another Aquino, that of former President Cory. The daily fare of eight-hour rotating brownouts wreaked havoc on the economy, employee productivity, corporate performance, tourism – and upended the lives of some 60 milllion Filipinos.
To compensate for the loss of electricity, companies diverted much needed operating funds to purchase and operate generators if only to create the semblance of “business as usual.”
Just to give you an idea how damaging this can be, the recent six-hour brownouts in Mindanao cost the Zamboanga City Medical Center P19,000 a day in diesel purchases so that operating rooms and other critical areas and equipment can function without a hitch. Scheduled expansion programs took a backseat as budget was realigned for the purchase of generators and new computer servers.
It has also been reported that a giant bottling plant spent P1.3 million per month on generator fuel alone. This excludes the outlay of another million pesos for workers’ overtime pay due to the change in working hours.
That such a scenario might rear its ugly head again is not farfetched.
The only debate in Congress now is how bad the power crisis will be in the summer of 2015.
Petilla had claimed there will be a supply shortfall of about 300 to 500 megawatts by March next year. He says this shortage could go up to between 600 and 800 megawatts due to the thinning hydropower capacity and the expected high power demand in summer of next year. If the El Niño phenomenon materializes, it could even go up to 800 MW to 1,200 MW, Petilla warned.
At a House hearing last Monday, the DOE predicted three to five-hour rotating brownouts for five straight days. It turns out, however, that the projected shortage of 300 megawatts to 1,200 MW that Petilla warned about was merely a thinning of the reserves for two weeks in summer.
Based on the data presented by Energy officials, the projected shortage is only around 31 megawatts, which, according to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, would only translate to one-hour rotating brownouts on peak hours or from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and only once a week.
Petilla insists however that “a reserve shortage is a power crisis problem.”
But whether the brownouts last for 5 hours or one hour, it will be ordinary Filipinos who will bear the brunt of this man-made crisis.
So whatever happened to Petilla’s public assurance early this year that while supply may be tight until 2016, there will be no power shortage?
“From 2014 to 2016, there will be tightness in supply but there is no power failure. It’s not like in the eighties when we had 10-hour power failures in a day,” Petilla said then.
In a sudden turnaround six months later, Petilla says, “I am uncomfortable with our supply for 2015. Our outlook is we have very thin reserve supply as against demand, so thin that we can go on red alert.” So the DOE chief now wants PNoy to be given “emergency powers.”
Specifically, Petilla invokes Sec. 71 of EPIRA or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, which allows the President, upon determination of an imminent shortage of supply of electricity, to ask Congress for authority to establish additional generating capacity under approved terms and conditions.
The President’s emergency powers, however, will not solve the country’s power supply woes.
The real problem is the EPIRA law prohibits the government from engaging in the power generation business. Unless the government is allowed to intervene or participate in the electricity market, Filipinos will be hostage to the so-called “market forces,” which in reality, is the cartel of power industry players.
After 13 years of EPIRA, we have the highest electricity rates in Asia and the third highest in the world. Demand still far exceeds supply. The expected deluge of power sector investors have not materialized as in fact there were very few generating plants built during the past decade.
The real solution to the power crisis, therefore, is to scrap, or at the very least, amend the anti-competitive and anti-consumer provisions of the EPIRA. Clearly, the EPIRA law’s intent to promote free competition and attract private investors to the power industry have proved to be an utter failure.
PNoy knows or ought to know this by now. That his administration has not done anything to address the scourge of EPIRA only shows that PNoy’s real bosses isn’t Juan de la Cruz but the profit-hungry power industry cartel. Poor Filipinos.