House resolution seeks to probe Luzon power outages

A MILITANT lawmaker on Friday has filed a resolution that seeks to probe the "suspicious forced and scheduled shutdowns of power plants" which triggered "yellow" and "red" alert status in the Luzon grid. On the same day, a consumer group has also separately asked the government's energy regulatory body to investigate these outages, as these increased the prices of electricity traded at the spot market.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate filed House Resolution 136 which directed the House committee on energy to investigate the "sudden price spike of electricity at the Wholesale and Electricity Spot Market (WESM) that reached P20 per kilowatt hour," triggered by the series of shutdowns.

These incidents "could be another market play" by generation companies, Mr. Zarate said in his resolution. On July 27, the Energy Regulatory Commission noted that prices at WESM peaked at P20, which prompted a yellow alert condition in the Luzon grid.

According to the resolution, the Unit 2 of the Sual power plant located in Pangasinan, which has a capacity of 647 megawatts (MW), conducted a forced shutdown, while the Calaca coal-fired power plant dropped its output from 200 MW to 180 MW.

Plants which conducted maintenance shutdowns include 300-MW Unit 2 of Calaca power plant, the 262-MW Sta. Rita Mod. plant, the 135-MW South Luzon Thermal Corp plant, 60-MW Unit 2 of Limay power plant, and 50-MW Unit 2 of Angat hyrdoelectric power facility.

"These simultaneous shutdowns, in corollary, would result [in] power supply shortfall and increase in the price rates imposed by the distribution companies, like Meralco. In line with this, there is a need to likewise determine the current status of the power supply in the Luzon," the resolution read.

The series of price surges and shutdowns should be investigated, "considering that the same circumstances were present during the 2013 Malampaya shutdown and the DoE (Department of Energy) still has not placed safeguards to counter such collusions," Mr. Zarate said in a separate statement.

On Friday, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines -- which dispatches electricity from power plants to consumers -- announced that the Luzon grid was placed on red alert status from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m and yellow alert status from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight.

ERC ASKED TO PROBE OUTAGES

Meanwhile, consumer group Citizen Watch has asked the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to look into the same simultaneous power plant outages in the past few days and also called them "suspicious."

"We reiterate our call for a strict audit of the operational fitness of all existing power plants, which can serve as an accurate base of what is really the actual and dependable capacity in the grid," said the group, which considers itself as a "network of independent organizations that help in fighting for the interest of the Filipino consumer."

If power supply problems were not addressed, "Filipinos may be facing a regime of high power rates or, worse, a repeat of the regular blackouts last witnessed in the 1990s, on the long term we should ensure adequate and reliable new capacity to ensure economic growth and national development," Wilford L. Wong, Citizen Watch Secretary General, said in a statement.

"If there is evidence of cartel-like behavior, the government must step in immediately to stop and prosecute the offender," the group said.

For its part, the Department of Energy (DoE) said it was "closely looking at the possible violations by these power utilities given the current energy situation" after the recurring yellow and red alert status announced by system operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

"In view of the recurring yellow and red alert status announced by the system operator, NGCP in the past few days, the DOE is now closely looking at the possible violations by these power utilities given the current energy situation," it said in a statement quoting DoE Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi.

"These debilitating power interruptions are in total violation of the EPIRA. We have already requested the ERC to investigate these persistent power brownouts and to take appropriate actions, pursuant to their mandate to regulate industry players," he added.

Mr. Cusi also said that he had instructed the department's power bureau "to conduct technical audits/plant inspections prioritizing those that have forced outages."

Source: Business World Online