MINDANAO POWER OUTLOOK: Brownouts are back, hopefully not for good
Share this on

MINDANAO POWER OUTLOOK: Brownouts are back, hopefully not for good

When the 210 coal-fired power plant of STEAG in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental began its annual preventive maintenance services, the Mindanao grid, already at last 140 megawatts (MW) short in supply, was again placed under rotational power interruptions.

Power outages of up to 2 hours in most parts of Mindanao reminded all residents here that the temporary lull was – well – temporary.

On Wednesday, Geronimo Desesto of the South Cotabato II Electric Cooperative (Socoteco II) said these pesky and worrisome brownouts could last up to 3 hours a day following reports that water inflow into the Pulangi River has dropped to low levels.

Pulangi River is the main source of the underutilized, run-of-river 255-MW Pulangi Hydroelectric Plant in Maramag, Bukidnon.

The combination of the STEAG shutdown and the critical water inflow of Pulangi brought the total power deficiency in Mindanao to 410 MW as of Wednesday, October 17.

Mindanao has a total installed capacity of 1,870 MW but actual capacity, before the shutdown of STEAG and reduced capacity of Pulangi, was just slightly over 1,150 MW.  The demand for capacity, then, was already down by 140MW forcing some the National Power Corporation to reduce power supply to electric cooperatives and private power distribution companies.

While the STEAG shutdown will last until November 4 only, power supply from hydroelectric plants in Mindanao are likely to go down as Pag-asa (Philippine weather bureau) is already forecasting a moderate El Niño occurrence beginning late in the last quarter this year up to the first quarter of 2013.

Mindanao has been dependent for 53 percent of its power supply from hydroelectric plants since the Agus Hydroelectric Power Plant complex began operating in the late 1960s.

The Agus hydroelectric power plant is a complex of six cascading power plants with combined capacities of more than 700MW.  Some of these plants’ antiquated turbines however have reduced total combined actual capacity to slightly under 500 MW.

In 2009 Mindanao Business Conference in Koronadal City, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said Mindanao has to add 100MW of new capacity every year if it is to cope up with projected increase in demand curve alone.  This required new capacity does not include demands from big ticket investments such as Sagittarius Mines Inc (SMI).  In effect, we are now already at least 300 MW short of the ideal supply capacity.

PCCI also said Mindanao needs to maintain a reserve capacity equivalent to its single largest operating capacity.  Industry sources pegged the reserve capacity to be at least be equal to 13 percent of the total installed capacity in the island.

As it now stands, STEAG’s 210MW plant is the single biggest power plant running in full capacity.  STEAG went on commercial stream in 2006.

Socoteco II manager Rodrigo Ocat said power interruptions in its franchise area will continue to be a major concern until 2015 when the coal-fired power plant of the Sarangani Electric Corporation (SEC) in Maasim, Sarangani starts operating.  Socoteco II and SEC have entered into a power sales agreement for the base load supply of 70MW, roughly 70 percent of the capacity requirement of electric cooperative.  The PSA was already approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission in July.  SEC is expected to begin construction next year.

Socoteco II has an existing annual contract with the Aboitiz-owned Therma Marine Inc. for the supply of 30MW to make for the reduced supply from the National Power Corporation.  The supply from Therma Marine however jacked up electricity rates in its franchise area by more than P1.50 per kilowatt hour.

The power supply problem however is not just confined to the franchise areas of Socoteco II as Zamboanga is now reportedly suffering from 2-3 hours of brownouts.

During the height of the 2010 power crisis when prolonged dry season in Mindanao brought the total power supply down to less than 500MW, brownouts lasting up to 12 hours severely affected and interrupted business operations throughout the island.

The national government has yet to quantify the losses incurred by the economy in Mindanao caused by those brownouts but it is conservative to place them in the hundreds of millions of pesos as the power supply problem lasted for close to five months.

This power supply crisis is again staring at the faces of Mindanaoans although this did not really disappear after the 2010 debacle.

But the need to accelerate the addition of new capacities are now more pronounced than ever if the island is to sustain its growth in spite of the ongoing and recurring power supply problem.  More so now that the prospect of lasting peace in the troubled southern parts of the island is already at hand.

Even if the Agus and Pulangi hydroelectric power plants, which are still owned and operated by the Napocor, are fully rehabilitated to the tune P30 billion, the Mindanao grid still needs to add at least another 300 megawatts by 2016.   That will bring the total requirement to 600MW based on the PCCI recommendation (figure includes the 300 new capacity that did not materialize between 2009-20012). The supply demand will even grow bigger beyond 2016 when a final peace agreement between the MILF and the government would have been signed.

The conflict areas in Mindanao are among the least developed regions in island.  Ironically, these areas are also rich in natural as well as mineral resources.  If peace reigns in these troubled regions, we need the infrastructure to propel growth in the island.

Stable and reliable power supply tops that list.

Without it, brownouts will be here for good.