By Victor V. Saulon, April 26 2019; Business World

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THE DEPARTMENT of Energy (DoE) has maintained that Luzon has sufficient power even on election day as fears persist about rotating brownouts after the grid operator issued a red alert notice on Thursday, running for four straight days after the Lenten break.

“We expect sufficient reserves especially on that day,” Assistant Secretary Redentor E. Delola said, referring to the May 13 mid-term elections.

“The worry that we’re having is the day after or the [vote]-counting day.”

His reassurance is the latest from the DoE after the department dismissed early in March fears of a possible adverse impact of a “weak” El Niño on the country’s power supply this quarter.

At that time, the DoE cited measures that are in place and the entry of new energy capacity towards the end of this semester.

The announcement was followed by Luzon’s first yellow alert for the year, the first of three for March.

At a hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, DoE Undersecretary William Felix B. Fuentebella said the department’s power supply and demand outlook was supplied by grid operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

Reserve energy in the Luzon grid fell below the required level on Tuesday, prompting the system operator to issue a “yellow” alert a day after the Energy department gave its assurance that power supply is sufficient in the dry months.

Luzon’s demand for power this year is expected to peak at 9,870 megawatts (MW), which will happen in May, placing the last week of April and all weeks in the succeeding month at a critical point for grid operator NGCP.

This year’s peak demand is expected to be higher by 1.48% over the previous year’s 9,726 MW, which happened in April or a month earlier than NGCP’s projection.

Peak load growth in May 2016 was 8.94% more than 2015’s 8,928 MW, which came in May.

Last year, NGCP made its projection using the demand pattern in 2010, an election year that coincided with El Niño’s extended dry spell. The same weather phenomenon struck in 2016.

On Thursday, NGCP issued a yellow alert notice from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., and from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. A red alert notice was raised from 10:00 a.m. to P5:00 p.m. and from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Yellow alert notices are issued by NGCP when reserve power thins as a result of the unscheduled outages of power plants. This prompts Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to turn to the wholesale electricity spot market, where electricity prices higher, to cover the deficiency.

The DoE said that, as of 3 p.m., a total of 990 MW was lost because of the forced outages of units 1 and 2 of GN Power Mariveles Coal Power Plant, and units 1 and 2 of SMC Consolidated Power Corp. plant in Limay, Bataan.

At the same time, unit 3 of Pagbilao Energy Corp. declared only 210 MW or 50% of its 420-MW total installed capacity because of an ongoing assessment of the condition of its boiler.

During the hearing, Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate energy committee, said existing rules have no “disincentive” for the power producers to force the to avoid the plant outages.

“Consumers are being penalized for unplanned outages,” he said.

Agnes VST Devanadera, chairman of the Energy Regulatory Commission, said based on data gathered by the agency, the outages could be blamed on the country’s aging power plants. “There is a direct connection between the age of the plant and the outages,” she said.

Victorio Mario A. Dimagiba, president of consumer group Laban Konsyumer, Inc., said demand for power continues to grow in Luzon but supply is not catching up. “Because of this, consumers are now experiencing red alerts, also known as, rotating brownouts. The yellow and red alerts also cause spike in [power] prices, especially in the spot market,” he said.

He called on the Senate energy committee to look into the bidding behavior at the electricity spot market before, during and after the alert notices “to see who has been taking advantage of the supply deficiency.” — Victor V. Saulon