ROTATING brownouts.

Suddenly, Mindanao and the rest of the country suffer from power shortage. For the past weeks, Dabawenyos have to contend with brown-outs that started for 30 minutes until it became a one-hour unscheduled affair.

A prolonged dry spell caused by El Niño has reduced the generating capacity of the island’s hydroelectric plants by 80 percent, according to the government. At this point, there are two culprits for the shortage: El Niño, which has reduced the generating capacity of hydro-electric plants in the country; and the breakdown of coal-fired power plants in Luzon.

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In Mindanao, the shortage is already severe. In Metro Manila and nearby provinces, it’s a two-hour rotating brownout for now. Electric cooperatives are more critical though, expressing suspicion that ‘some sectors might be manipulating events to cause an artificial crisis.’

And the suspicion may stem from a collective experience of the nation where unscrupulous power suppliers and their conduits in the government declare a power crisis to justify either an increase in power rates; the entry of another hydro electric project or the granting of emergency powers purportedly to solve the crisis.

This is all but a repeat of our ordeal in the late 80’s and early 1990’s where there was an absence of any government program to deal with the power crisis. Data from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) showed that Mindanao’s power generation deficiency has grown to 578 megawatts from around 350 megawatts a week ago.

Peak demand from the region was recorded at 1,400 megawatts mid this week, meaning supply was only able to power up nearly half of Mindanao’s electricity use which is dependent on hydro facilities that are now drying up because of the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Because of reliance on hydroelectric facilities, Mindanao may still be hard pressed to improve its supply situation even if the dry spell abates. In particular, state-owned National Power Corp.’s (Napocor) Agus hydroelectric power plant has a total available capacity of only 110 megawatts out of its total rated capacity of 727 megawatts. The Pulangi hydro plant, also owned by Napocor, is running at only 30 megawatts out of a total rated capacity of 255 megawatts.

The Department of Energy earlier recommended for the declaration of a power crisis in the region to help identify other power sources and put up new power plants which is barred under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001.

The failure of government to respond to this situation may have long term implications, especially since the elections is near. Imagine what could happen during a 30 minute or an hour brown during the elections.

One could not really blame the tendency to be paranoid these days and think that yes, maybe this are staged managed. The country is not replete with situations to show that amidst national crisis, few individuals and businesses continue to suck greedily. Email comments to roledan@gmail.com