Night tourism in the city

By Herbert Vego

THERE’S a movie now filming in Iloilo City, with my friend Jun Intrepido doing “extra”.  It would certainly boost tourism.

I learned from the city tourism officer, Junel Divinagracia, that travel agencies everywhere have already “boosted” Iloilo City as a tourist destination; more so because of its night tourism being touted as an emerging phenomenon.

If you have done a night visit to the 153-year-old Molo Church and the Molo Plaza, surely you have “oohed” at their magnificence enhanced by bright lights sponsored and installed by MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power).

Mayor Jerry P. Treñas and MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro have sat down many times to talk about selling the city to tourists and prospective immigrants.

“Yes, Molo is our first night-tourism project,” said the company’s vice-president for corporate planning, Niel Parcon, during an interview with the Tribuna sang Banwa program on Aksyon Radyo last Sunday. “Next in line is the San Jose Church at Plaza Libertad. We are now also working on lighting up the giant Christmas trees at Plaza Libertad and Sunburst Park.  Watch out also for the lighted Iloilo River to kick off the river cruise.”

Unfortunately, some people could not be appeased by jobs well done.  Take for example their comments in the social media interpreting “good deeds” as cover-up for negligence. And so I asked Mr. Parcon to comment on critical remarks heaped on the distribution utility for hiked power rates and frequency of brownouts.

“We understand the burden inflicted by the rise in energy rates by P2.18 per kilowatt-hour,” he answered. “But we have nothing to do with it.  We can’t increase rates without the approval of the Energy Regulatory Commission.”

In other words, it’s the galloping prices of coal – which is now the most patronized fuel for power plants– that determine the ups and downs of power rates.  It has gone as high as US $400 per metric ton.

No wonder Semirara Mining and Power Corporation (SMPC) – the biggest coal extractor in Semirara Island in Caluya, Antique — set a record profit of P36 billion in the first nine months of this year, up by 250 percent from P10.3 billion it posted in the same period last year.

When coal was cheaper, the DUs passed on cheaper rates to end users.

MORE was billing residential customers the cheapest at only P6.46/kWh in 14 straight months counting from July 2021, having entered into a contract with PSALM geothermal plant. Geothermal energy today, alas, has become too scarce to fill the needs of the DUs.

So you see, distribution utilities (DUs), including all electric cooperatives, also double as “collectors” for generating units and the transmission grid.

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is highly publicized as the reason behind the skyrocketing coal prices. The other coal-producing countries could not cope with rising demand during the current winter month.

The good news, however, is that coal prices are now beginning to slide down.

“Hopefully,” Parcon predicted, “we would be billing lower prices in February.”

I asked him whether resorting to solar energy could be a potential alternative, since it is also becoming affordable.

“Yes,” he said. “We are going in that direction.  As of now, however, solar energy could not provide 24-hour continuity because it is highly dependent on sunlight.  It could run on storage batteries, but it would still entail higher operating cost.”

Anyway, patience pays.  With Enrique Razon, the chairman of MORE Power, investing in solar energy, a solution probably now lurks just around the corner.

Asked to comment on consumers’ oft-repeated complaint on frequent brownouts, this was what Sir Niel Parcon had to say:

“When we took over from the former DU, our linemen faced the challenge of repairing or replacing dilapidated posts with concrete ones. Aside from that, the unexpected brownouts are caused by breakdown of other facilities like wirings and power meters. Replacing all of them would exhaust the entire P1.9 billion of our capital expenditure allotted for our five-year modernization program aimed at eventually ending power outages.

“We have reliable linemen to cope with all repair works. We also employ contractors. Three of them are capable of doing repair work without shutting off power.

“Most power interruptions are now of short duration.  These are usually caused by the wind blowing twigs to fall down the live wires.  When it happens, the automatic circuit reclosers sense the danger and shut off power, only to revive it when no human intervention is necessary.”