By Rjay Zuriaga Castor
No less than the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) is at fault for the power outage that lasted for over four days on Panay Island, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Friday.
“Accountability lies with the NGCP. They are tasked with grid stability. Stability involves proactive response to breakdowns and unexpected events — a duty that NGCP unfortunately has not fulfilled adequately,” the president said.
Marcos, citing the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines, pointed out that the NGCP had a two-hour window to inform Panay power plants of the instability in the grid on Tuesday afternoon, January 2.
This two-hour window could have prevented the system collapse, the president added.
“Regrettably during this period, NGCP failed to resort to manual load dropping resulting in the crisis that we are facing right now,” the president stressed.
He stressed that NGCP’s failure to act promptly on the system disturbance is a “missed opportunity.”
Marcos noted that though power has been fully restored in Panay Island on Friday, the prolonged power outage has crippled businesses, compromised livelihoods, and endangered those in need of healthcare.
“Napakalaki ng nagiging lugi ng lahat ng mga negosyo sa Panay Island area,” he added.
As days-long power outages happened again in just eight months, Marcos said the recent incident emphasized the swift completion of stage 3 of the Cebu-Negros-Panay (CNP) backbone project.
The president recommended that distribution utilities and electric cooperatives attend to the power needs in hospitals and emergency facilities.
He further reiterated his five-point directives to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) following the 3-day-long power blackout that struck Panay in April of the previous year.
To ensure NGCP’s compliance with its statutory and regulatory obligations, Marcos said he had directed the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to complete the reset of NGCP’s rates without further delay.
“[The reset is also] to defend in no uncertain terms against any attempt to defer, delay, or prevent the implementation of regulatory measures,” the president continued.
Meanwhile, the Department of Energy (DOE) has also concurred with the president’s statement pinpointing the blame for the power blackout to the NGCP
“From the time that a generator had an unscheduled breakdown past noon of January 2, NGCP did not do anything as the systems operator responsible for maintaining the stability and integrity of the transmission grid,” DOE Secretary Raphael Lotilla said in a press briefing.
He stressed that the loss of supply covering more than 15 percent of the power generated from Panay Island should have alerted NGCP to call for manual load reduction.
Lotilla has also echoed the sentiments of the local chief executives and lawmakers that the 3-day power outage in Panay Island in April last year “should have served as a lesson to take extraordinary precautions due to the fragility of the grid.”
‘FULL ACCOUNTABILITY’ SOUGHT
Lotilla said the DOE will exert all efforts to exact “full accountability for any failures in the delivery of the services expected from NGCP” as the transmission concessionaire and the country’s biggest monopoly.
“As I have stressed from the start of the Administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., we are committed without let-up to assist and facilitate the completion of long-delayed and new transmission projects for the benefit of our people,” he added.
The DOE also expressed its full support on the call made by legislative leaders and Panay local officials for a legislative investigation into recurring power issues.
Among the moves DOE will make to ensure the timely expansion of the transmission system is recommending to Congress to review the separation and transfer of the systems operation function from NGCP which shall focus on the transmission network provider function.
Lotilla said the DOE will also recommend to the lower house the provision of authorizing the ERC to impose administrative penalties on the transmission concessionaire of P2M per day of violation or non-compliance with regulatory rules, or 1 percent of the cost of the delayed project based on the ERC-approved project cost, whichever is higher.
It will also highlight during the investigation the review of the special tax privilege of NGCP to pay only a 3 percent franchise tax in lieu of all other national and local taxes.
The NGCP asserted that they should not be the one to be blamed for the days-long power outage in Panay Island.
“NGCP’s mandate is confined to transmission of power from producers to grid-connected areas of the country. As the transmission service provider, NGCP can only give an overview of the current supply and demand situation and endeavor to dispatch any and all available power. It cannot intervene on matters concerning power generation,” it said in a statement.
The transmission service provider reiterated that there was no transmission disturbance before the tripping of the Panay Energy Development Corporation (PEDC) Unit 1 at 12:06 p.m. on Tuesday.
NGCP maintained that after the trip, it was able to recover the transmission system and normalize voltage.
“This normal voltage situation persisted until several power plants inexplicably tripped at 2:19 p.m. Data from our system shows no abnormality in voltage and system stability,” it emphasized.
In a previous statement, NGCP blamed the cause of the power interruption on the “unscheduled maintenance shutdowns of the largest power plants in Panay island.”
“It is alarming to hear policymakers immediately make conclusions based on assumptions contrary to fact. We are firm in our position that the system prior to the 2:19 p.m. multiple tripping was normal, and our actions were undertaken within protocols. Any contrary statement is speculative,” it said.
The NGCP further belied allegations that it failed in its obligation to stabilize the transmission system.
“Rather than using NGCP as a scapegoat, we urge policymakers to be objective in their search for facts and not coddle certain sectors. This is not a time to push personal or political agendas, but a time for honest-to-goodness solution finding,” it added.
THE POINT FORWARD
The DOE said that alongside ERC, they will get to the root cause of the tripping of the 6 power plants, and conduct a technical analysis of the Panay grid so that necessary grid enhancements are carried out.
“The DOE will review the scheduled plant maintenance shutdown of all plants to widen the margin for regulation and contingency,” Lotilla said.
The DOE further reiterated the five-point directives of the president to the NGCP after the April 2023 incident for NGCP.
The energy secretary added that they will continue to work with NGCP to ensure the completion of stage 3 of the CNP backbone project. It is expected to be completed in March 2024 after it was moved six times from the original target date of December 2020.
CNP phase 3 involves the construction of 230 kV transmission line facilities from the Barotac Viejo Substation in Iloilo province to the Cebu Substation.
It is designed to accommodate the transmission of excess power equivalent to the output of two 400-MW plants from Panay and Negros to Cebu.