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DOE chief assures solons of adequate power supply

August 10, 2022 PS Jun M. Sarmiento 276 views

DOES the Philippines need to prepare for more frequent brownouts?”

This was the question raised by Senator Nancy Binay on Wednesday as she asked Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Raphael Lotilla about the state of the Philippines’ power supply during a meeting conducted by the Committee on Energy.

During the hearing, Binay recalled the previous briefings where energy officials predicted the country would have problems with its power supply.

Lotilla, however, was “optimistic” that the Philippines would have an adequate power reserve as cooler months were coming.

“My rule of thumb is for every one-degree difference, it’s a deduction (in consumption) of 100 megawatts. So, as we go into the cooler months, our reserves also go higher,” Lotilla said during the briefing.

The energy chief stressed the need to address transmission constraints that cause power outages.

Sen. Raffy Tulfo, the chairperson of the Committee on Energy, presides over the first hybrid organizational meeting with DOE Sec. Lotilla.

Tulfo said it is alarming to note the soaring prices of fuel and electricity, which he said will affect the lives of many Filipinos.

“Energy is a technical field, but it must always be remembered that in this committee, our first and foremost priority is always the productivity and welfare and betterment of the people,” Tulfo said in his opening statement.

Tulfo also asked about the possibility of harnessing energy from ocean waves, which Sec. Lotilla said is promising given that the Philippines is an archipelagic country.

“But admittedly, the levelized costs of installing those at this time are still high, unlike solar and wind, that the costs have gone down. So, we hope that with more massive global use and further research, that will in time, the cost will also go down,” Lotilla said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said, “Aside from Ormeco, I recommend to the committee that all IPPs (Independent Power Producers) with contractual obligations with it should be made to participate in the upcoming inquiry. Pakinggan natin ang panig ng bawat isa.”

Hontiveros said that aside from distressed Oriental Mindoro Electric Cooperative (Ormeco), she also wants the involved independent power producers (IPPs) and concerned government agencies summoned for the upcoming inquiry to pinpoint the main reason behind the worsening power crisis in the province of Oriental Mindoro.

Ormeco is the electric cooperative servicing the franchise area of the province and has been in a “hot spot” due to repeated complaints of power outages and brownouts experienced by the consumers.

However, there are claims of alleged delays by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) in the approval of rate application of IPPs operating in Ormeco, which delayed commercial operations to provide the power supply.

Delays in claiming the UCME (Universal Charge on Missionary Electrification) subsidy impacted heavily on supplier’s operations which they use to buy expensive fuel for their generation power plants.

Sen. Hontiveros, during the organizational meeting, asked Lottila to address the long-standing problems on Off-Grid, Island-Based Distribution utilities and asked for his thoughts on Congress’ desire to review and update the 21-year-old EPIRA law or Electric Power Industry Reform Act.

Lotilla said he will study all sides of the coin as he assured Hontiveros of his willingness to work with Congress to address all problems in the energy sector.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, asked for his outlook for the next six months and if DOE expects red and yellow alerts, especially in the coming summer.

Gatchalian noted that the country had about 22 red and 154 yellow alerts over the last six years, and it has become a tradition for the committee to hear about the power outlook.

Lotilla, in his response, said the country currently has enough reserves for the next six months, provided that there would be no major breakdowns of power plants.

“But for the summer months, I have to tell you that I’m beginning to have concerns about that, and we will do our best precisely to address stranded power our there,” Lotilla said.

Sen. Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito cited electricity and infrastructure as the main drivers of the country’s economy.

“If he could suggest other sources of energy that would bring down the cost of electricity in the Philippines. I think the high cost of electricity and weak infrastructure are two things which make our country unattractive,” Ejercito said during the hearing as he asked Lotilla to make a formal recommendation and master plan that will include energy sources for the next 50 to 100 years.

Sen. Ronald Bato dela Rosa said the problem in Mindanao is about the high cost of electricity which is really affecting all sectors in Mindanao, as he appealed for an immediate solution and intervention of DOE, which Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III agreed to.

Pimentel III asked Lotilla to issue a directive that will require distribution utilities to have a standardized format in the electric billing statement as he also suggests making the electric bill easier to read so that all charges such as generation charge, transmission charge, system losses, and taxes are seen at one look at the bill.

He also asked Lotilla to explain the tax on an already imposed tax and the subsidies on the electric bills. By PS Jun M. Sarmiento and Camille P. Balagtas