MORE DARKNESS AHEAD: Panay DUs warn: Brace for persisting brownouts amid delays in NGCP’s grid projects

An Ati -Ati dance tribe performs during the opening salvo of Dinagyang 2024 in downtown Iloilo City. Eight tribes will compete during the highlight on January 28, 2024. (Rjay Zuriaga Castor photo)

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

Distribution utilities (DUs) in Panay Island have cautioned the public that intermittent blackouts may persist due to delayed or yet-to-be-constructed grid improvement projects.

Iloilo III Electric Cooperative, Inc (ILECO III) General Manager Atty. James Balsomo II said that the completion of the Cebu-Negros-Panay (CNP) backbone project is still pending, and NGCP has yet to fulfill its commitments to DUs and generation units after the April 2023 power outage.

“Power security is a matter of national security. We wanted a sense of urgency in all the parties. Until the cause of the problem is resolved, it would again be a matter of time before the same incident would happen,” he said during the House committee on energy investigation of the Panay power outage on Thursday.

Balsomo said that some of the electric cooperatives in Panay Island and Negros conducted an onsite inspection of the ongoing construction of phase 3 of the CNP project, which revealed that some portions are still incomplete.

“There are portions na wala talagang structures, there are portions na structure pa lang, wala pa ring wires. There may be an underlying issue on this. Based on our assessment, the project is at most 70 percent completed,” he claimed.

Balsomo said they submitted a report of their on-site inspection to the National Electrification Administration.

“We seriously doubt if the project would be completed in March given the current state of the implementation,” he added.

But in a Transmission Project Status Report submitted by the NGCP, the DOE said that the CNP Backbone project is 99.64% completed as of October 2023.

NGCP assured during the hearing that they could meet their promised completion date of March 2024.

The CNP project has been subject to several delays, in which the NGCP was supposed to have completed phase 3 of the CNP project in 2020, but the completion date has been delayed at least seven times from the original completion date of December 2020.

After the April 2023 blackout, the project was targeted for completion in August 2023 but moved again to March 2024.

Balsomo also pointed out that NGCP has yet to start the initial construction process of the static var compensator, which, according to him, can help NGCP ensure integrity and security in the grid.

“The static var compensator is among the instruments mentioned in the grid code to control the voltage and to achieve and manage their active power and to ensure integrity and security in the grid,” he said.

The static var compensator is part of NGCP’s voltage improvement project and civil works are targeted to begin in the second quarter of 2025.

“Why wait for 2025, given that the situation right now is an emergency in nature and power security is a matter of national security? There must be a sense of urgency that this smart instrumentation must be introduced to the grid soonest.

Balsomo also disclosed that in 2023, DUs in Panay paid a total of P971 million to NGCP for ancillary services to prevent a massive blackout in the Panay subgrid, as mandated under the Philippine Grid Code to ensure the stability of the entire grid.

The ancillary services are paid by consumers since it is imposed on their electric bills, Balsomo added.

Roel Castro, president of MORE Electric and Power Corporation (MORE Power), said that its franchise consumers in Iloilo City may expect round-the-clock rotational brownouts in the future.

“I know that the committee is looking into the big mega projects of NGCP, like the CNP, but I’d like to stress that if the (1×100 MVA) new substation will not be commissioned by the end of the year, that would actually render Iloilo on rotating brownouts simply because of the load growth in Iloilo,” he said.

MORE Power is the electric distribution utility of Iloilo City.

Castro was referring to the delayed Panay Energy Development Corporation 138 kV S/S, 1×100 MVA, under the Panay–Guimaras 138 kV Interconnection.

Based on NGCP’s Transmission Development Plan 2016-2040, the estimated time of completion of the substation was supposedly in January 2021.

DOE Undersecretary Sharon Garin also pointed out that while the Panay grid would have a strong backbone upon the competition of the CNP project, it would not be maximized if the substations were not upgraded.

“There are 13 or 12 other projects that even if you have a strong backbone but your substations are not upgraded, then hindi ma maximize ‘yun,” she said.