ELECTRICITY should not be a rare and almost unobtainable resource 22 years into the 21st century, but for the long-suffering people of Mindoro, it apparently is. Extended power outages affecting one or both of Mindoro's provinces have been plaguing the island for years, and have been increasing in frequency and duration; this weekend, it was Occidental Mindoro's turn to suffer, with an outage that lasted most of two entire days.

It is a potentially dangerous situation, and to be blunt, a ridiculous and unnecessary one, because the reasons for it are clear. Yet no agency with any responsibility, from the Department of Energy (DoE), the National Electrification Administration (NEA), the National Power Corp. (Napocor) or the three electric cooperatives that distribute Mindoro's electricity, seems to be able to come to grips with the problem.

That problem has two parts. First, there is simply not enough electricity being produced on Mindoro, which is not connected to either the Luzon or Visayas grids. Since the middle of last year, the DoE has identified a supply deficit of about 25 megawatts (MW). Mindoro's electricity is generated by 12 oil- or diesel-fired plants, one of which is currently completely out of service; four small hydroelectric facilities; and one onshore wind farm near Puerto Galera. These plants have a combined total rated capacity of 142.68 MW, according to DoE data as of the end of 2021.

However, due to the age of some of the plants, the available capacity is only 118.89 MW, a shortfall of 23.97 MW. The bulk of Mindoro's electricity (103.5 MW of the 142.68 MW total rated capacity) comes from oil- and diesel-fired plants, but the three oldest of these, brought online in 2011, 2012 and 2014, respectively, are operating at only about 58 percent of their rated capacity and account for almost half of the supply deficit.

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The second part of the problem is that the distribution systems of the three electric cooperatives, the Oriental Mindoro Electric Cooperative (Ormeco), Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative (Omeco) and Lubang Electric Cooperative (Lubeco), are in poor condition. Most of the outages, particularly in recent months, have been due to equipment breakdowns in the local grids. The cooperatives, which are likewise not in outstanding financial health due to the high cost power coming from oil or diesel plants, as well as various management difficulties, have not been able to keep up with the necessary maintenance and upgrades, leading to more frequent breakdowns and outages.

Rapid solution exists

At the end of August last year, outgoing Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi met with the stakeholders in Mindanao and directed Napocor to find a way to supply the island with the missing 25 MW of capacity, promising the public that their power woes would be solved by the end of September. That didn't happen, but even if the capacity deficit had been corrected, virtually nothing has been said and even less has been done to help the cooperatives come to grips with their deteriorating infrastructure and finances. Thus, power outages continue, with little relief in sight for Mindoro's 1.4 million people.

Mindoro needs a rapid solution, and we believe one exists, and that deploying it on the island would be a valuable demonstration of energy technology options. There has been rapid development of off-grid, renewable energy systems in recent years — mostly solar-powered, scaled either to supply individual houses or buildings, or small local "micro-grids" — and these are readily available in the Philippines now. Working at the local government level, the appropriate configurations of these systems could be financed and deployed within a matter of weeks.

Exactly what shape this sort of program would take would have to be worked out, and it would unavoidably involve bypassing a great deal of bureaucratic control presently exercised by agencies such as the NEA, the Energy Regulatory Commission, and the electric cooperatives. "Challenging," however, does not mean "impossible." It can be done, and all that is really required is for the government to take its mandate to make electricity available to all Filipinos seriously.