MANILA, Philippines — The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has ordered the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) to explain the delay in 33 power transmission projects that the agency had already approved.
ERC Chair Agnes Devanadera said in a statement on Thursday that NGCP, the private operator of the country’s transmission network, must explain in detail the changes in the timeline and the events that led to the postponement of the projects’ completion.
The additional transmission lines, along with substations and other grid components, were meant to make the electricity system more resilient to breakdowns and accommodate upcoming power plants that would deliver large amounts of additional supply to the grid.
“The completion of the NGCP transmission projects is a crucial element in ensuring the stability of electricity in the entire country,” Devanadera pointed out.
The recent brownouts, however, were caused by a shortage in supply due to unscheduled power plant shutdowns during summer when demand is usually at its peak.
The ERC also directed NGCP to comply with the requirement that it enter into supply contracts for ancillary services, or for reserve power that the company could tap whenever the need arises.
NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Alabanza said they would cooperate with the ERC and provide all the needed information.
The call-out on NGCP came in the wake of three straight days—May 31 to June 2—when the transmission operator placed Luzon under red alert as electricity demand was projected to exceed available power plant capacity. The shortage happened on Monday and Tuesday, resulting in rotating brownouts in Metro Manila and parts of Luzon. Demand eased by Wednesday, prompting NGCP to lift the red alert early.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi had repeatedly criticized NGCP for being “consistently noncompliant” with the requirement to secure “firm” contracts for ancillary services, which commit the supplier to deliver, as opposed to “nonfirm” contracts wherein power companies have a leeway to not deliver.
Last April, however, NGCP told the joint congressional energy committee that ancillary services required the availability of excess capacity and that contracts could not be secured if there were no such surplus.
DOE to blame
On Thursday, legislators said it was the Department of Energy (DOE) that should take responsibility for the brownouts because it failed to craft programs meant to stabilize the power situation in the country.
Senators Franklin Drilon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Aquilino Pimentel III and Francis Pangilinan expressed dismay that the DOE was trying to evade accountability for the recent brownouts.
“It’s disappointing. Blame everyone except yourself. Where is accountability?” Drilon said in a statement.
Energy Undersecretary William Fuentebella earlier said that the DOE would work with the ERC, the Philippine Competition Commission and the Department of Justice to study the filing of charges for economic sabotage against the erring power companies.
But Drilon said the DOE’s resorting to “blame-shifting” would not solve the power crisis.
“The move is an attempt to shift away the blame from the government, which, obviously, failed to prepare for these power outages over the last five years. The DOE is only using power plants as scapegoats for what happened. It’s a cover-up,” Drilon said.
The Senate minority leader echoed the sentiments aired by Sen. Manny Pacquiao on Wednesday over the supposed “incompetence” of officials led by Cusi, accusing him of prioritizing political affairs over his duties as a member of the Cabinet.
Pacquiao said in his privilege speech: “We’re expecting bigger problems pertaining to power supply, have we done enough preparations for a surge in power supply demand this summer? I will say it straight: He is incompetent for that position.”
Pimentel reminded the DOE that as a government agency, it carried the primary burden of providing Filipinos with affordable electricity.
“The people want electric power, not power tripping by DOE officials. If violations of the law have been committed by the firms they supervise, then okay, enforce the law,” he said.
Pangilinan dared the DOE to publicly explain its basis for, and the evidence to support, its accusations against private power firms.
“These allegations are serious and not to be taken lightly. If there is indeed economic sabotage, it is the duty of the DOE to explain,” he said.
Gatchalian, chair of the Senate committee on energy, lamented that while the threat to sue the generation companies might be an important step to compel power firms to improve their operations, it was merely a reactive move on the part of the DOE.
“It will not solve the current brownouts that we are experiencing. DOE should have anticipated the [worst]-case scenario earlier on and put in place contingency measures.”
—WITH A REPORT FROM TINA G. SANTOS
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