Power probe

By: Limuel Celebria

When Congress comes out of its Halloween break this week, it is quite possible that a resolution will be filed calling for an investigation into the two-day power outage that plunged Iloilo City and the rest of the Western Visayas region as everyone was preparing for the observance of All Saints/ Soul’s Day.

The outages were initially attributed to a breakdown in the system of Global Business Power Corporation (GBPC), the Iloilo City Based power generating firm. On the second day, it was blamed on a fault in the Negros-Iloilo submarine connection of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines.  Earlier, when everyone was still in the dark about the power loss, the explanation proffered by local distributor Panay Electric Company (PECO) bordered on the ridiculous – a “disturbance” in the system. (What is this, Star Wars?)

Parenthetically, one can only pity Peco at the time. It was merely deflecting all the blame, all the hellfire and brimstone, that were heaped upon it even if it had nothing to do with the original sin. But was Peco indeed faultless as virgin snow? We will try to find out.

A well-placed source within the camp of Iloilo City Rep, Julienne “Jam” Baronda said the congresswoman is mulling an investigation into the debilitating blackout of October 29 and 30. As a member of the House Committee on Energy, Rep. Baronda can initiate the investigation or congressional inquiry in order to find out the root causes of the power disruptions and avoid similar occurrences in the future.

The source said Rep. Baronda is concerned about the “operational readiness and capacities” of the energy sector in our region to insure a steady and reliable source of power particularly at this point when Iloilo City and other key localities in the region are growing economically by leaps and bounds. Iloilo City itself, already recognized as one of the fastest growing in the country, is on the verge of breaking out as a Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing & Exhibitions (MICE) destination not just locally but internationally. A reliable power supply and other public utilities is critical to the success of this endeavor.

But a congressional inquiry may take time. If only to satisfy the concern as well curiosity of everyone adversely affected by the outage, our source said the city’s first congresswoman may simply write a letter asking the Department of Energy to conduct an immediate investigation and provide plausible answers to the puzzle.

What is glaring in the two-day October Blackout, is the apparent delay by PECO to restore power to its consumers even if power has been fully restored and the break’s in NGCP’s already fixed.

As I said, we pity PECO for getting the bulk of the blame even if the fault lies the transmission system (NGCP’s responsibility.) But why was it delayed for several hours in restoring power to Iloilo City when the grid has already normalized and, in fact, consumers from electric cooperatives around the region are already watching television in the comfort of their homes.

Let us retrace. The Tuesday outage was caused by a fault in Panay Energy Development Corporation, a subsidiary(?) of GBPC. The subsequent fluctuation in power caused other power plants in the NGCP grid to automatically disengage so that their systems will not be fried. The system was back in play after 30 minutes, but it took Peco several more hours to “normalize.”

The next day, it was NGCP’s turn to fall apart. The break was repaired within two hours. But it took Peco to the moon and back to restore power to its long-suffering consumers. Why?

Peco points the blame on GPBC protocols. GPBC owns PEDC, which runs coal-powered electric generators, and Panay Power Corporation which generates power through diesel-turbines. The diesel-turbines are used to fire up the hard-starting coal-plants. For this purpose alone, whether the standby power is used or not, Peco consumers have to shell out P25 million a month, apart from the regular power consumed.

The delay in the return to power to city consumers is thus an offshoot of an apparent “sweetheart deal” between Peco and GBPC, where Peco is exclusively reliant on the latter for its power supply. This deal also prevents Peco from getting power from other cheaper sources, particularly in the so-called wholesale electricity spot market, where excess or available power by other suppliers is sold. Among other things, this also another reason why Peco’s cost of power is bruited to be among the highest in the country.

The entry of a new power distributor in Iloilo City, More Power and Electric Corporation (More), could free the Ilonggo consumer from its travails with Peco.

An investigation into the power situation in the region should hopefully prevent such sweetheart accommodations and finally allow the exploited Ilonggo power consumer to enjoy the full benefits of power deregulation as envisioned by EPIRA.