Almendras finds allies in senators amid quit calls

March 29, 2012 10:24 pm 

By Jelly F. Musico

MANILA, March 29 -– Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Rene Almendras found allies in senators amid calls for him to resign over the power shortage in Mindanao.

Senator Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero said there was no basis to call for the DOE chief’s resignation even after some quarters were pushing to extend emergency powers to the President Benigno Aquino III to immediately address the Mindanao power crisis.

”The resignation of Secretary Almendras has nothing to do with the emergency powers. The reason why we are giving the President this power is because it’s not available to begin with. It is not to take the place of the powers of the DOE secretary because he is merely an alter ego,” Escudero, a member of the Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC), said.

Escudero proposed the granting of standby power to the President rather than emergency powers.

”The standby power is a readily available extraordinary power that the Chief Executive can exercise under extreme circumstances without needing congressional nod. It is temporary and should be defined within the framework of extreme circumstances and subject to certain limitations and safeguards,” Escudero explained.

For his part, Senate committee on energy chairman Senator Serge Osmena III believes that Almendras remains the best for the position as DoE chief, adding calls for the energy secretary to resign is counter-productive.

”He is one of the best energy secretary that we ever had. Except that he is not a politician so he doesn’t know how to brag about what he does, he just does it,” Osmena said.

Osmena said it is not true that the government is not doing anything to solve the power shortage in Mindanao, saying the problem is the resistance in Mindanao not to sell Agus-Pulangi plant.

”In Mindanao, because government still owns about 60% to 70% of the total output, there will be really shortage because private sector will come in only up to the demand curve, they will not go beyond that,” Osmena said.

”We said to them, it will not work under the market-driven, competitive regime under the EPIRA. I said to them, in Luzon and Visayas, there is no brownout. Only you here in Mindanao has brownout because you refuse to follow us,” said Osmena. EPIRA stands for Electric Power Industry Reform Act.

Osmena said he warned Mindanao on the power shortage back in 2001 and it happened in the 2010 elections and “now it happens again.”

”I told our people in Mindanao “We have tried our best, we have planned ahead because the power industry has to be planned 10 to 20 years in advance. You can buy Eveready battery if there is power shortage. It takes 3 to 5 years to build a plant,” Osmena said.

As part of the solution to power shortage, Osmena said the people of Mindanao have to accept “that they will have to face higher rates.”

”A little bit higher, by about 50 centavos. The P3.70 to P4.20 per kilowatt hour,” Osmena said.

Escudero agreed with Osmena that the supply deficit in Mindanao was partly due to the separation of Mindanao from the national power grid. The Luzon and Visayas grids are interconnected which allow their respective grids to share capacity loading.

“Only one line rotates in Mindanao. All generated power is brought to one single grid, one private company – the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) – which has the sole decision to distribute the load,” Escudero said.

According to Escudero, Mindanao has been experiencing daily rotational power interruptions due to power supply deficit of around 200 megawatts. The available power capacity in Mindanao is only about 1100 or 1200 megawatts but the demand, especially for the month of March, is 1300 megawatts.

“The deficit for March is about 178 megawatts, but come April it will become 345 megawatts, which is already very difficult to catch up given the current supply side. One of the causes of this problem is a complicated and technical issue which is very expensive if addressed and executed. But it will be a long-term solution to end these woes” Escudero said.

Escudero lamented that with the privatization of the NGCP, which has been a crown jewel of the country, the government lost its police power over energy distribution in Mindanao.

The senator said the DOE can begin exploring utilization of self-generation capacity which most of the big industries and corporations readily have.

Through an executive order, the government can make an inventory of all privately-owned generator sets through mandatory registration so we would know the total capacity we have from these self-generators.

“As example, the Shoemart, the Robinson’s, big industries, they have their own generators. Encourage them to use these instead of connecting to the main line to relieve the pressure from the grid. DOE can come up with a rebate or incentive scheme so we encourage more owners to use their own sets,” Escudero said. (PNA) DCT/jfm

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