At the hearing of the House Committee on Energy Committee last Monday, Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Director Irma Exconde presented the updated Luzon Supply-Demand Outlook and revealed that the supposed shortage in power supply in 2015 is but a thinning of reserves in April instead of the scenario earlier painted by DOE Secretary Jericho Petilla.
The hearing was held to discuss the joint resolution granting President Aquino emergency powers to address the supposed looming power shortage in Luzon in 2015. The granting of emergency powers was being insisted on by Petilla shortly before the State of the Nation Address of the President this year.
Based on their own data and computation, the DOE officials at the hearing said that Luzon would only be experiencing a shortfall of 21-31 MW in reserves during the first two weeks of April 2015. The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines representative explained that if this worst-case scenario indeed happens, it would mean one hour of rotating brown outs on peak hours once a week during summer.
This scenario is so much different from Petilla’s earlier pronouncements that Luzon could experience a power supply shortfall of up to 1200 MW, which translates to months of outages in 2015. Petilla has been urging the Congress and Senate to grant the President emergency powers to allow the government to contract back-up power at the cost of about 6 billion pesos and compel private companies with generators to participate in the Interruptible Load Program or ILP.
Before last Monday, the DOE was saying that there would be a shortfall of from 180 MW up to 285 MW in the two weeks of April and 37 MW to 100 MW in the last week of May. This shortfall was said to still increase further if the El Nino will be factored in. The reserve was computed by subtracting from the available power capacity the projected electricity use (demand) and the regulating reserve.
During the Monday hearing, the DOE changed its computation. The officials reported that with the installed capacity of 12,769 MW and subtracted the dependable capacity of 11,389 MW but subtracted another factor— the planned outages–to calculate for the existing available capacity. The DOE stated that planned outages are the capacity that will not be online at the projected time because of planned maintenance of the power plants.
What is questionable in this computation is the introduced factor, as pointed out by POWER convenor and former Representative Teddy Casino, the addition of forced outage as an additional factor on available capacity is based on the assumption that the reduction of power supply that happened this year will happen again at the same time next year. The difference in the figures reported by Petilla in the news programs and the latest presentation of the DOE in the hearing is that the energy department has changed its computation and figures and seem to add more factors in its assumptions arbitrarily, whichever will look worse.
These forced (and planned) outages were belied by statements from the private power producers themselves. When asked how much capacity they could provide, the Philippine Independent Power Producers Association representative stated that they have more than 11,000 MW capacity available to supply the power needs next year and would strive for a 100% availability of their dependable capacity.
Private companies have also disclosed that on top of this capacity, they offered their additional committed capacities that would come online next year and their willingness to participate in the ILP to avert the power shortage if there ever will be one next year. The potential savings from energy efficiency and conservation efforts are still not even factored in the supply.
The presentations in the hearing led those attending to the conclusion that there will be no actual shortage in supply next year but at worst, the summer would bring only thin reserves. These could be prevented if the DOE exerts due diligence to ensure that the planned and forced outage would not occur.
The committee also stated that there is no rush to grant emergency powers to the President, no need to contract additional capacities through purchase or rental and that the remaining option that needs to be discussed are the terms and conditions in the ILP.
The DOE secretary, instead of doing his mandate of ensuring affordable, reliable and adequate supply of electricity has been painting doomsday scenarios to bully consumers and lawmakers into granting the President emergency powers. Petilla and the President must give an explanation for issuing confusing statements and threatening the public with a power shortage based on data and computation that they could not even defend.
The yearly power shortages can be prevented if the government would be able to put electric power plants online in a predictable manner. Under the EPIRA, except through the emergency power clause, the government is helpless in this case. To avoid this chronic problem, the solution is not to manufacture crises but to dispose of the EPIRA law altogether.