ENERGY Secretary Angelo Reyes yesterday assured the “dark days are over in the Visayas.”

He made the statement following a report by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) that the Cebu-Negros-Panay (CNP) grid will start to have reserve power with the completion of new power plants.

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Speaking in Palawan, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo admitted there is an energy problem in the Visayas, but assured it is being addressed jointly by the government and the private sector.

Among the measures is the construction and improvement of power plants like the 200-mw coal-fired plant of Korean Electric Company-Salcon in Naga in Cebu, which will be operational by 2011.

“There is an energy gap in the Visayas, but it is being plugged by a plant in Naga, Cebu and a billion dollars worth of investments by Metrobank and its partners for more than 600 mw in Cebu and Iloilo. In fact, their new 250-mw plant in Toledo, Cebu soft-opened last Sunday and will be inaugurated on March 1, with myself as guest of honor,” the President said.

A new 82-megawatt plant of the Cebu Energy Development Corp. (CEDC) will be available by the end of the month, and is only undergoing mechanical adjustments since it was tested last Feb. 17.

Kepco-SPC has also accelerated the operation of Cebu Thermal 1, which has a gross capacity of 50 mw, by synchronizing the plant with the grid last Sunday, said Raul Galano of NGCP.

“With all these plants online, we will have a good reserve for the Visayas. We will have enough reserve even without additional plants. For the first time, Cebu’s (power) generation will be greater than its demand, in 2010,” Galano said.

He referred to CEDC’s 82-mw second unit, expected to be operational in May, and a third unit in December.

In October, he said, Kepco SPC will synchronize its new 100-mw plant in the City of Naga.

“The future is bright. The days of darkness are over,” Secretary Reyes said. “Starting next month, the whole Visayas grid will have a positive reserve for power.”

He visited Cebu for the presentation of the Philippine Energy Plan 2009-2030 and a power stakeholders’ meeting.

CEDC president Jess Alcordo, however, reminded everyone that they must harmonize the terms they use when discussing power, saying that their new plant, for example, has a gross capacity of 82 mw, but its rated or dependable capacity is just 72 mw.

Not differentiating the two, he said, “distorts supply and demand figures.” He also said there should be a better method in scheduling preventive maintenance, which

should be the call of the NGCP.

Because the plants are privately-owned, maintenance schedule is at the discretion of the owners. The NGCP, which transmits power to distribution utilities, is reduced to requesting them to put off shutting down plants for maintenance and repairs.

Meanwhile, Cebu Business Club (CBC) president Dondi Joseph said that with power stabilizing in the Visayas, he no longer sees a need for the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) here.

In a one-page resolution, the CBC last January called on the government to implement the WESM, saying the Philippine Electricity Market Corp. (PEMC) has already established the infrastructure for its operations in Cebu-Negros-Panay.

Department of Energy’s Eduardo Fernandez explained that though WESM was planned in the Visayas in 2007 yet, launching it is “easier said than done.”

An online market where power consumers and bidders do business, the WESM started commercial operations in Luzon in June 2006. The PEMC manages it.

Its basis is Section 30 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, which seeks to “demonopolize” the industry by allowing private investors and encouraging competition.

Over 300 mw of committed or “ready to go” power capacity in 2010 is supposed to end Visayas consumers’ current worries over insufficient power supply.

But projections released by the Department of Energy (DOE) show that government, in the long run, will have to be more aggressive in bringing investors into the power industry.

The Visayas grid alone will need an additional 2,150 mw by 2030—almost double its present “dependable” capacity. Yet the “indicative” power capacity stands only at 264.5 mw by 2019. (Indicative capacity represents projected supply from projects already revealed to the DOE, but which still lack some requirements.)

Secretary Reyes pointed out the need to secure power facilities from calamities. He also admitted oil and coal will continue to be the main energy sources for transportation and power, even as the government pursues the development of alternative and renewable sources.

Norman Vincent Martirez of the DOE Electric Power Industry Management Group said the agency will have to be ready with emergency measures for the Visayas grid, like delaying the retirement of old power plants or providing temporary replacements for problematic transmission facilities.

DOE officials presented yesterday the Philippine Energy Plan 2009-2030 to public and private officials from Regions 7 and 8. The agency is projecting a 4.6 percent annual growth in power demand in the Visayas, said Martirez.

After weeks of rotating brownouts, the power supply situation in the region “will normalize” next month, he said, with the operation of an 80-mw coal-fired plant of the Cebu Energy Development Corp. Two more units are scheduled to operate in June 2010 and January 2011.

“This should narrow the gap between demand and supply,” Martirez said.

The Visayas grid has a committed capacity of 328 mw this year and 325 mw next year, according to the DOE’s 2009-2030 plan. It said the critical period for power supply in the Visayas was 2009, and that the agency is ready “to implement contingency measures, as needed.”

Cebu has suffered rotating brownouts after a shortage of as much as 200 megawatts recorded this month, when power plants in the Visayas were shut down for preventive maintenance. (With Sunnex)