By Victor V. Saulon, April 11 2019; Business World

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FOR THE FIRST TIME this year, grid operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) has issued a “red alert” notice on Wednesday after power demand in Luzon exceeded existing reserves, raising the possibility of power interruption if the situation were to persist.

NGCP said it might resort to “manual load dropping” or rotational brownouts between 1:00-2:00 p.m. in some areas, including within the franchise of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), to maintain the integrity of the power system.

However, the Department of Energy (DoE) downplayed the impact of the thinning power reserves as it pointed to the interruptible load program (ILP) of Meralco, which activates the scheme that prompts establishments with power generation sets to switch on their facilities to ease energy demand from the grid.

The agency said it did not expect any power interruption because there were 174.6 megawatts (MW) available under the ILP within the Meralco franchise area.

“The distribution utilities, specifically Meralco, have already notified the ILP participants to activate their self-generating facilities during the mentioned intervals which resulted to the de-loading of 174.3 MW,” the department said in a statement.

“This, along with the energy efficiency and conservation program exercised by the customers, may prevent the potential power interruption within its franchise area,” it added.

Along with energy players, the DoE said it was closely monitoring the increases in demand and the power plants that are expected to be operating.

“The other strategies considered by the power industry players include the management of plant maintenance schedules, the optimization of existing hydroelectric power plants, the upgrading of the electricity facilities, the preparation of available generator sets for unforeseen outages, the increased participation of big establishments in the [ILP], as well as the continued call for an energy efficiency lifestyle for electricity end-users,” it said.

NGCP at 8:33 a.m. on Wednesday announced that the Luzon grid would be on yellow alert and red alert at certain hours of the day, with power demand reaching 10,313 MW as against available capacity of 10,625 MW.

The issued red alert was from 10:01-11:00 a.m. and from 1:01-4:00 p.m. The yellow alert notice was from 9:01-10:00 a.m.; 11:01 a.m.-1:00 p.m.; 4:01-5:00 p.m.; and 6:01-9:00 p.m.

The warnings were caused by the high projected system demand and the outage and de-ration of several power plants that resulted in the thinning of reserves.

The DoE identified the plants on unscheduled outage as unit 1 of the Sual, Pangasinan power plant at 647 MW; unit 2 of South Luzon Power Generation Corp.’s plant at 150 MW; unit 3 of the Pagbilao, Quezon plant at 420 MW; unit 1 of South Luzon Thermal Energy Corp.’s plant at 135 MW.

With the unplanned shutdown of these plants, Luzon lost a total of 1,352 MW. NGCP maintains power reserves equivalent to the biggest power plant units that are operating — the two units of the Sual plant, each with a capacity of 647 MW. When these reserves are gone because of a surge in power demand, the system operator issues a red alert.

For most of last week, the Luzon grid was on yellow alert, prompting Meralco to warn of a possible increase in electricity rates when consumers receive their monthly bill. The distribution utility buys replacement power at the electricity spot market when the power plants it has supply contracts with are out.

Privately owned NGCP said rotational brownouts might be felt in parts of Ilocos Sur, Cabanatuan City, Bataan, Cagayan and parts of Apayao, parts of Camarines Norte, and Metro Manila. — Victor V. Saulon