UNLESS the government takes bold steps to address the power crisis, the shortage in electricity that has triggered rotating brownouts in Luzon will continue until next year, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla warned on Tuesday.
Petilla projected that Luzon will face a power shortfall between 400 megawatts and 500 megawatts (MW) by summer next year because of the scheduled maintenance of various power plants.
Although there are new power plants being built, he explained that some of them will not be online by 2015, thus, the power demand will be unlikely met.
“We are expecting at least six power plants that could generate 400 MW by summer but the supply is not sufficient to address the demand,” Petilla said.
He noted that this is the right time for President Benigno Aquino 3rd to declare a state of emergency in the power sector so that he can seek all remedies to the power crisis.
“We still have time to act but if we do this in 2015, we can no longer address the problem,” Petilla said in a radio interview.
The Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) restricts the government from venturing into power generation but the Energy secretary also noted that Section 71 of the law allows the President to declare an emergency and ask the House of Representatives and the Senate to come up with a joint resolution that will authorize him to implement some measures to generate more electricity.
If the President is granted emergency power, he can order the purchase or renting of modular generator sets to cover the demand, which is expected to expand in the coming days, the Energy chief said.
The President met with Petilla and other energy players on Tuesday but Malacañang said Aquino is yet to decide on Petilla’s recommendation to declare a state of emergency.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Petilla’s suggestion may be an effective way to allow government intervention in terms of adding supply.
“Unlike in the past, the government itself was involved in generation, motu propio, on its own, it can act. But because of the [Epira] law, the structure was changed and an emergency provision was only put in place,” Coloma explained.
Under the Epira regime, responsibilities of the National Power Corp. (Napocor) were divided into generation, transmission and distribution. This, according to Coloma, gave private firms the primary roles in the entire sector.
The Palace official said Aquino’s decision will be made after a thorough review and evaluation of Petilla’s concerns.
But multisectoral consumer group POWER opposed Petilla’s recommendation, saying there is no need for the President to declare a state of emergency.
The group cited the country’s experience when former President Fidel Ramos was granted emergency powers on April 1993 under the Emergency Power Crisis Act. It said Ramos used the authority to enter into agreements that favored Independent Power Producers that led to higher electricity rates through the imposition of the controversial Purchased Power Adjustment rates.
“Emergency powers could mean long-term suffering for consumers,” Raymond Palatino, the group’s spokesman said.
The group urged the government to use the P175-billion Malampaya funds to build more power plants. In Mindanao, it can rehabilitate the Agus-Pulangi hydroelectric power plants to generate more power for the island.
“We fear that this proposal is part of a sinister conspiracy to justify the building of more dirty coal-fired power plants by favored cronies of the Aquino government,” Palatino said.
The group challenged the President to speak about his government’s energy policy in his State of the Nation Address on July 28.
Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House energy panel, is also not keen on granting emergency powers to Aquino even if his fellow administration allies Representatives.
Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela City (Metro Manila) and Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar backed Petilla’s proposal.
“We are yet to establish if there is a crisis. What [Energy] Secretary [Jericho] Petilla said is that the power supply is thin. Whether or not there is a crisis, we don’t know for sure.
It would be premature to make conclusions [on emergency powers],” Umali told reporters.
“Rest assured we will be supportive of this administration’s move in addressing the needs of the consumers, but we still need to define the parameters of those emergency powers, such as terms and conditions,” he said.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) also welcomed Petilla’s move but said purchasing power generation sets (gensets) is one way to solve the crisis.
“Gensets are a quick fix but they will be very expensive and the power generated from them will be in the vicinity of P12 to P15 per kilowatt-hour,” TUCP Executive Director Luis Corral said.
He noted that it would be best if the power generation sector was returned temporarily to the government “until we establish a reserve for each island grid in the range of 20 percent to 30 percent reserve of the peak demand.”
The group urged the President to call upon all sectors to join in crafting a national response in the face of this crisis. “We will be one with the President in this key concern because as we have repeatedly told the economic cluster and His Excellency in our meetings in 2012 and 2013: “If there is no power, there are no investors, and there will be no new jobs.
We hope to solve the power crisis which is the key in bringing about new jobs and saving current jobs,” Corral said.
With Jing Villamente And Neil A. Alcober