By Butch Fernandez, May 3 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

LAWMAKERS are looking to pass remedial legislation imposing stiff penalties on power suppliers for unplanned brownouts, with fines that could go as high as P50 million.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, after presiding over Thursday’s hearing of the Joint Congressional Power Commission, revealed this plan of lawmakers.

“Wala kasing [There is no] penalty for outages,” Gatchalian, Senate Energy committee chairman, told reporters after the hearing that was called to tackle solutions to power outages.

A massive outcry had greeted the unscheduled serial brownouts across huge parts of Luzon two weeks ago, prompting lawmakers to demand clear explanations from regulators and power generating companies.

The outages sparked angry reactions because several of them were unplanned, coming even after the Department of Energy had confidently reported that energy supply would be adequate as power players already gave the schedules of their plant shutdowns for maintenance work.

No brownouts on election day

Also at Thursday’s hearing of the oversight panel, Department of Energy officials assured the Joint Congressional Power Commission Thursday they do not foresee brownouts occurring during the midterm May 13 national and local elections.

Gatchalian said they are banking on the DOE assurance of “sufficient reserves” of power on election day.

An hour of power outage in Luzon may happen after election day, the Department of Energy (DOE) warned on Thursday.

“Worse case, if it will happen, it will be a one-hour outage per area,” DOE Assistant Secretary Redentor Delola told members of the Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC).

Delola said this could happen if there is no additional capacity injected into the grid and if major power plants conked out again. “Worse case scenario, if we experience again what happened from April 10 to 12, expect outages much more because demand is projected to be higher in May,” he said.

Election day on May 13 is a holiday. During holidays, demand for electricity is at its lowest. After May 13, when the counting of votes happens in most places, demand for power is likely to peak.

“On May 13, there is sufficient supply. Nothing will happen. But since the days after election day are working days then we may expect demand to pick up again. But for as long as there are new capacities coming in and no forced plant outage happens then we are ok. Otherwise, the worse case of one-hour brownout may happen,” explained Delola.

Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi assured that three power plants, with a combined capacity of 470 megawatts (MW), will transmit power to the grid on May 4. “In a report, by May 4 the capacity from plants that went offline last time will produce power. We will be back to normal level. There are also no maintenance activities during election period.”

Meralco, the country’s largest power distributor, also said it was preparing contingency measures in case several poll precincts would be hit by rotational brownouts.

The congressional commission was likewise informed by energy officials there would be “no maintenance works scheduled” during the election, “but all hands would be on deck.”

“We are going to coordinate on election day,” Cusi told Gatchalian, who was also informed that by May 4 all power plants “will reconnect with the supply chain.”

The senator earlier warned energy suppliers that the congressional commission “will hold gencos [power generators] accountable,” adding that the panel was crafting “major reforms” to be enforced soon.

He indicated that the commission was working to reform the existing system and make the major players in the energy sector accountable, citing for instance the proposed adoption of a “causers’ paying principle” that will cover penalties for unscheduled service interruptions.

“We have had several hearings [on this]; whoever is at fault should be penalized,” Gatchalian added, even as the ERC informed the Commission they will still “do another round of consultations” as they also “need to consider inputs.”

Gatchalian, however, told energy regulators to fast-track the process. “We need to have accountability in the power sector,” the senator said, airing hopes that “sana [I’d wish], best effort, do it in 30 days.”