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Expect more heat.

So here we are again: About to start the summer season, with the prospect of a power shortage to add to the heat. To be sure, this has been the situation in many parts of Mindanao for the last few years and lately in parts of the Visayas, too-and not just during summer. But in the next few months, demand for electricity in Luzon, where almost three out of every five Filipinos live, will potentially outstrip available supply, and then the power shortage will become a national scandal.

The Aquino administration has only itself to blame.

Certainly, there are other factors to consider. Air-conditioning use always spikes during the season. The El Nino weather phenomenon is expected to prolong the dry weather, affecting hydroelectric power plants in Mindanao. The economic boom of the last few years has increased demand dramatically. But the deficit between supply and demand can be attributed to inadequacy on the part of the administration-a lack of foresight, and a lack of urgency.

A Zamboanga City-based businessman interviewed for a two-part special report in the Inquirer, Pocholo Soliven, raised a sensible, nonsensational question other Mindanao residents are also asking: "This power shortage started manifesting itself in 2010. The power outages started happening then. And it happens every year. Why was nothing done sooner?"

When the first "brownout" hits Metro Manila or another urban center in Luzon, expect that question to gain more traction.

The long-term answer to the power situation was never in doubt: The Philippines must build new power capacity. But the same lack of urgency that characterizes the performance of the Department of Transportation and Communications also describes the performance of the Department of Energy.

The two-part special report crunched the numbers. In Mindanao, "available and committed" capacity is at 1,536 megawatts (MW), but peak demand is forecast to reach 1,760 in the next few months: a shortfall of 224 MW. In the Visayas, capacity until May is estimated at 1,701 MW, but peak demand may hit 1,781 MW: a deficit of 80 MW. In Luzon, both capacity and peak demand are estimated to stand at around 10,500 MW-a rough parity, but leaving both government planners and ordinary citizens with no room to spare. In such a situation, we should expect the occasional power outage.

"And it gets worse," the special report adds. "Excluding the output from power plants that are committed to come online, the deficit for 2015 for the entire country will rise to 711 MW. This includes 406 MW for Mindanao ..."

Last February, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla already warned the public that the country's power grid would likely go on "yellow alert" during the summer months; that is, because supply is short in both the Visayas and Mindanao, and the buffer in Luzon is thin, a problem in a single power plant may mean rotating power outages.

Petilla also made reassuring noises about the government taking "the necessary steps" to ensure power supply, including operating the Malaya thermal power plant for as long as 70 days. He also told the Inquirer that he was negotiating with the operators of two power plants in Luzon to defer their scheduled maintenance shutdowns until after the summer season. But in truth these steps are quick fixes, not the permanent solution that the economy's momentum needs or the country deserves.

Indeed, the way he described the negotiation takes back as much as it gives: "We have asked generators to accommodate the request but only if it does not lead to the power plant concerned to prolong downtime in the future." Essentially, this means: It's up to the power generation companies concerned.

We note that, yes, additional capacity is being built. According to the energy department, in the next three years a total of 1,467 MW will come online in Luzon, 429 MW in the Visayas, and 920 MW in Mindanao. As Petilla says, rather optimistically: "By 2015 to 2016, we will already have an oversupply."

In the meantime (and indeed, in the unfortunate case of Mindanao, since 2010), let the people suffer.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Mar 21, 2014
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