Senior citizens have always been the butt of jokes for their “senior moments” or short memories. They easily forget many things – names, events, locations. It is therefore a surprise to discover that so many people, especially in the power sector also have short memories. In the review of the power crisis that beleaguers the people of Mindanao, records showed that this phenomenon occurs almost every summer. Every summer, people serviced by the different electric cooperatives endure the long brownouts due to the lack of electricity. The simplest basic needs cannot be served - no light, no electric fan, no refrigerator for the ordinary citizen (the more affluent ones have generators) for two to five hours. This summer, the suffering is at its worst with temperatures reaching 35 to 38 degrees. But there is no solution in sight with the energy sector only starting to bare their plans for the future; and had failed to move to prevent the repetition of last summer’s power crisis. Such short memories!
What were the solutions floated during the power crisis of the previous summers? There were recommendations for the revision of the EPIRA Law, the formulation of a Philippine Development Energy Plan, the sourcing of power from other energy sources – such as solar energy, diesel barges, nuclear energy, thermal energy. The power supply of the Mindanao Grid mostly comes from Lake Lanao and the Agus River complex, sources which are declining due to lower water level during summer. Hydro-electric power is the main source of electricity for the Mindanao Grid. This can be augmented by power barges – from NAPOCOR, and Aboitiz Corporation. But there was no move on the part of the electric cooperatives and the government in charge with energy to access the power barges. Probably it is due to higher costs in the use of diesel, a non-renewable energy source; but consumers will be willing to shoulder the cost if only during the summer months. The cities of Davao, Cagayan de Oro, and Cotabato are serviced by Aboitiz Corporation, and although the electric rates are high, the consumers do not seem to mind so long as there are no brownouts.
Another solution that the government sees is the interconnection of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao grids to allow reserve electricity generation capacity to be shared by these three regional grids. According to the Tribune (April 15, 2013), only the Luzon and Visayas — through the Leyte grid — are connected which protects the area from a power crisis. The Luzon grid which has 200 MW excess that can be exported and the Visayas can also export another 200 MW to Mindanao if interconnected, which should have resolved power shortage in Mindanao.
The good news is that The Board of Investments (BoI) recently approved the application of Philnewenergy as a Renewable Energy (RE) Developer of Solar Energy Resources. According to the Tribune (April 12, 2013) Philnewenergy will augment the current supply of energy in Mindanao by an additional 35 MW annually. Its P3.33 billion project will install a solar photovoltaic power plant in Darang, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur. The Solar photovoltaic power plant will start commercial operation by March 2015 and is expected to employ 93 personnel. This is in line with the government’s Renewable Energy program contained in the Philippine Energy Plan of 2012-2030. Hopefully, this will be the answer to the woes of the people of Mindanao. However, something must be done for the summer of 2014 to prevent a repetition of the brownouts this summer of 2013.
Eva Kimpo-Tan is the editor-in-chief of The Mindanao Cross, the oldest Catholic weekly in the southern Philippines.