Brownouts send Catanduanes under state of calamity

By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, July 12 (PNA) -– Power supply in the Bicol island-province of Catanduanes has deteriorated to a magnitude that is crippling the local economy, prompting the provincial government to declare a state of calamity.

A resolution recently passed by the provincial legislative board, which was readily approved by Gov. Araceli Wong, said the 12- to 48-hour regular brownouts have since been causing disastrous effects on business operations in the province, posing deleterious effect on the local economy caused by the actual losses and foregone revenues.

The resolution, a copy of which was obtained by PNA here Saturday, that placed the province under a state of calamity also authorized Wong to plead with Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III into directing Department of Energy Sec. Carlos Petilla and National Power Corporation (NPC) president and chief executive officer Maria Gladys Sta. Rita to promptly remedy the situation.

Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) Resolution No. 188-2014 said DOE and NPC must provide for an emergency augmentation to the current power supply until the province is able to restore a stable energy-generating capability.

In an interview over the phone, Catanduanes Vice-Governor Jose Teves said that under the present situation, only Pres. Aquino through the DOE and NPC has the resources to address the problem that is why “we want our governor to knock on the doors of Malacañang.”

“On our part, we have already exerted all efforts within the scope of our authorities but yet, nothing has been arrived at to put an end to these nagging brownouts that have been pestering our businesses, government operations and everyday living since the start of this year,” Teves lamented.

The province’s power retailer, the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative Inc. (FICELCO), serving over 40,000 member-consumers and the local unit of NPC have been rendered helpless by this situation caused by forced technical outages resulting in a supply deficiency of about seven megawatts—a huge shortage from the nine-megawatt requirement of the province, he said.

The bulk of the problem is now being blamed on the local power supply provider contracted by NPC to deliver starting last January at least 3.75 megawatts (MWs) of electricity to the Catanduanes power grid using two 1.5-MW and a 750-kilowatt genset.

Reports, however, said the contractor—Cost Plus, Inc. (CPI) — from the very start of its contract made use only of the two bigger capacity gensets at the contracted 12-hour per day per unit, with the smaller one lying idle reportedly due to non-availability of some spare parts.

The same problem was compounded by the shutdown later of the CPI’s two China-made Cummins gensets due to under-frequency and other defects last April 30, further denying since then the local power grid of about three megawatts and forcing FICELCO to implement load-shedding across the island.

The contractor’s failure to deliver also comes as the three hydropower plants in the province operate at only about 20 percent of their capabilities due to low water levels brought about by the prevailing dry season, he said.

One of these water-powered facilities is the Balongbong Mini-Hydro Power Plant in Bato town with a rated capacity of 1.8 MWs and the other two are the Solong and Hitoma Hydro Power Plants in San Miguel and Caramoran towns, respectively, with a combined rated capacity of 3.8 megawatts.

All three mini-hydro power plants are owned by Sunwest Water and Electricity Corp. (Suwesco).

Under the present water level situation, the Balongbong plant can deliver only about one megawatt of electricity for a period of four hours every night while the two other hydro plants could produce only produce 1.7 MWs in four to six hours daily, Teves said.

With all these power supply maladies, he said, the once-belittled 3.6-MW bunker-fueled genset of the Catanduanes Power Generation Inc., a local energy supplier under contract with FICELCO, now bears the burden of supplying two megawatts on a 24-hour basis using at least six gensets rented from NPC at its Marinawa diesel power plant in Bato town.

The vice-governor said NPC should as soon as possible provide the province reliable gensets to prevent further damage to the worst local power situation, especially that Pres. Aquino expects a stable flow of electricity in the province with a Php 200-million fund whose release he approved two years ago for the complete energization of the province.

In May 2012, the President, during his visit to the island, approved the amount for the power distribution upgrading project that is now ongoing and scheduled to be completed this year.

The amount is part of the Php 711-million NPC projects in the island that include the installation of the 51.17-kilometer Virac-San Miguel 69-kV transmission line and the 39-kilometer Codon-Virac 69-kV transmission line.

The whole amount also covers the acquisition of three new sets of diesel generators with a capability of 1,500 kilowatts each, which have been included in the budget for the revised capacity addition for 2013-2018 of NPC’s Small Power Utilities Group (SPUG) spelled out in its Missionary Electrification Plan for the same period. (PNA)