Brownouts may occur anytime–Transco docs

By Vincent Cabreza, Abigail L. Ho, TJ Burgonio
Last updated 02:07am (Mla time) 07/27/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The state-owned National Transmission Corp. (Transco) has placed all power distribution companies on “red alert” since Wednesday, indicating that power interruption could occur at anytime without warning, according to documents released by an electric cooperative in Benguet province.


Parts of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal and Laguna experienced two hours without electricity two days ago after Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) implemented rolling brownouts because of the low power supply.


Baguio City and eastern Pangasinan also suffered power outages.


A dry spell that has slowed down hydroelectric power plants, a major shortfall in the coal supplied by government to independent power producers (IPPs), and the breakdown of old power plants have resulted in a “zero-system reserve,” Transco said in a July 23 memorandum that explained its alert status. Transco operates the national power grid.


Gerardo Versoza, general manager of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco), said “zero reserve” means Transco would need to reduce the power load that reaches households in Luzon should a power generating plant break down.


To do this, Transco must shut down power in selected provinces to keep electricity flowing smoothly through the national power grid. This explains why blackouts have been occurring intermittently in the provinces, Versoza said.


‘We want to know real score’


He said provincial power firms had not been officially informed about the plants in disrepair that triggered the Transco alert notice.


But officials of an IPP on Wednesday said that 11 power plants caused the power alert when they could not produce up to 3,012 megawatts (MW) needed by the national grid that day.


The memorandum was addressed only to Transco branch offices, the Department of Energy and Meralco, and was not released to power utilities covered by the alert, Versoza said.


But he said the alert covers power distribution firms nationwide. Beneco’s copy, he said, was given to it by a Transco insider.


“[Electric cooperatives] want to know the real score. Why did they try to keep this from us?” Versoza said.


Back to normal?


On Thursday, the state-run National Power Corp. (Napocor) said the power situation in Luzon was back to normal, with the grid having supply reserves of between 300 MW and 600 MW.


Data from Napocor’s power economics department showed that the Luzon grid Thursday had an available capacity of 6,397 MW in the morning, more than enough to supply the morning peak demand of 6,000 MW.


Total available capacity in the afternoon was placed at 6,642 MW, also enough to address the afternoon peak demand of 6,300 MW.


Luzon’s power reserves stood at 397 MW in the morning and 342 MW in the afternoon. In the evening, reserves were even higher at 607 MW.


Despite the improving power situation, Napocor urged the public to conserve water and electricity, as the supplies of water and power remained tight.


Pray for rains


Things may take a turn for the worse because the dry spell in Luzon is expected to continue next month, a situation that could further cut the power supply from hydroelectric plants.


The weather bureau has advised the public to do the next best thing: Pray for more rain and conserve water.


The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has detected the development of two low pressure areas in the next seven days, but the rains would not be sufficient to augment the critical water level in Angat Dam.


Cause for alarm


PAGASA forecast the volume of rainfall next month to be less than 40 percent in Luzon, a trend that has prevailed in June and July.


If this trend continues throughout August, PAGASA would declare a drought in September, officials said.


“Is there cause for alarm? Definitely, yes, because there was a reduction in the rainfall amount in some areas in June by 40 percent. July, the same,” Prisco Nilo, PAGASA deputy director for operations and services, said at a press conference.


“For August, some areas will still experience deficiency in rainfall. There will be a reduction of as much as 20 to 40 percent in the amount of rainfall,” he said.


‘Displaced’ weather


In Cebu City, Nathaniel Cruz, chief of the forecasting department at PAGASA, said the weather remained “displaced” because there were no tropical cyclones that normally would have hit Luzon by this time.


“Instead of the wet season, we have a dry spell in Luzon. And it’s raining in the Visayas and Mindanao [when these areas should be dry],” said Cruz.


Rainfall had been extremely low and only two instead of eight typhoons had entered the country since January, he said.


After weeks without rains, the water has dipped to critical levels in Angat, San Roque, Binga, Ambuklao, Magat and Pantabangan dams in Luzon, according to PAGASA.


Below capacity


The hydroelectric plant at Caliraya lake in Laguna province is no longer working because of the low water level.


Because of lack of water, hydroelectric plants, including those at the Binga and San Roque dams, both in Benguet, have been generating at below capacity.


At the same time, the Team Energy Sual coal plant in Pangasinan has been operating at half capacity since last week because of its low coal supply. The Malaya Thermal Plant in Rizal also had to cut operations because it had no more coal.


The power outages prompted Sen. Rodolfo Biazon to suggest that the appointment of former Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes to the energy department may not be a wise move.


Mitigation measures


PAGASA said the dry spell would lead to red tide, warmer air temperatures, decreased water supply, bush fires, and health problems.


To address these problems, the bureau recommended optimum water allocation and use, cloud-seeding, repair of dikes, adoption of water-impounding projects or shallow tube wells, and rehabilitation of deep wells and water harvesting facilities.


It also proposed water conservation, use of resistant crops with less water requirements, enhancement of irrigation efficiency, modified cropping calendar and reduction in leakages.


Acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, who was also in Cebu, said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo instructed him Thursday to release two more planes for cloud-seeding operations.


In Manila, Anthony Golez, National Disaster Coordinating Council spokesperson, said the NDCC was launching an information drive on water conservation, global warming and climate change.


To avert a water crisis, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) said it would need to pump an additional 100 million liters of water a day to its current capacity of 4,000 million liters a day.


Water rationing


But putting in the necessary facilities for the additional capacity would cost between P3 billion and P4 billion and would take up to two years to finish, according to MWSS Administrator Lorenzo H. Jamora.


“If a drought would be declared, we would resort to water rationing, meaning we have to cut services at certain hours of the day,” Jamora said.


In the Senate, Sen. Loren Legarda renewed her call for a total logging ban, saying that the water and power shortage crisis was due to the destruction of forests.


The country’s universities have offered to plant trees to revive the country’s water supply. The Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) is set to embark on a massive tree-planting project this year. With reports from Amy R. Remo, Dona Pazzibugan, Alcuin Papa, Beverly T. Natividad and Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. in Manila; Jolene R. Bulambot Inquirer Visayas


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