DAVAO CITY -- A Dabawenyo businessman warned that the Mindanao power grid will totally collapse in 45 days if no rain will come in the coming days and the drawing of water in the lakes continues.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also declared a state of calamity in Mindanao amid the worsening power crisis due to the dry spell brought about by the El Niño phenomenon.
The declaration of a state of calamity would enable local government units (LGUs) to access calamity funds, which could be used in mitigating the effects of power crisis.
Calamity fund is five percent of the annual budget of every LGU.
Vicente Lao, president of the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC), said the Agus and Pulangi complex in Mindanao island are already in a very critical state and if the government could not find any other alternative source of energy, then Mindanao better expect the worst -- total power loss in most parts of the island.
According to the latest monitoring of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), Mindanao is only producing 749 megawatts of power while the demand for power is already at 1,497 megawatts, creating a power supply gap of 748 megawatts.
The NGCP continues to blame the El Niño phenomenon as the culprit in the shortage of power supply, with the weather phenomenon drying up the major bodies of water where hydro power is sourced.
Lake Lanao, upon which six hydro power plants tap for their hydro power has already breached the critical level of 699.15 meters and is hovering only a few centimeters away from the “shutdown level” of 698.15 meters.
On the other hand, Luzon and Visayas are still on a tight balancing act with power reserves getting slimmer by the day.
Visayas is already facing a 30-megawatt shortage in its power supply, while Luzon has only 223 megawatts of reserve power.
The Dabawenyo business leader also rued how the national officials "belittle" the Mindanao power crisis. He specifically criticized the statement of Press Secretary Cris Icban who said power plants are no longer needed in Mindanao once the rainy season starts come May.
Icban's statement, Lao said, is a classic example that problems in Mindanao are not prioritized by the National Government.
He said even if rain would come in May, the power generation problem will not normalize until November or December this year.
Lao urged the government to face the Mindanao power crisis head on and not be in a state of denial.
He said what Mindanao needs now are additional power generating facilities.
Lao said that though the private sector is uncomfortable with them being tapped to help in the provision of power they will nevertheless comply with the government request if it would help solve the crisis.
Malacañang aims to see government-private sector partnership in helping President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo address Mindanao's power woes.
"There's the possibility of private sector participation so addressing this problem won't be solely government action," Icban said Thursday.
To help even out Mindanao's power demand, he said authorities are targeting to seek from private industrial players there a new work schedule.
Aside from these target private sector initiatives, authorities are likewise planning to transfer a power barge from Luzon to Mindanao.
"Doing this won't totally eliminate power shortage but it can help ease the situation there," Icban said.
State of calamity
Mindanao Development Authority chairman Jesus Dureza said the President has decided to adopt the recommendation of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) to put entire Mindanao under state of calamity following power shortages that impair productivity and businesses in the south.
Further details about the declaration will be announced soon.
The NDCC on Wednesday recommended the imposition of a state of calamity in the whole of Mindanao as the five to eight-hour rotating brownout in parts of the region has worsened.
In his weekly briefing at Malacanang Thursday, deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said he would not be surprised if President Arroyo signs the proposal underscoring “urgency” of coming up with solutions to power crisis in Mindanao.
“I don’t see any reason for the President not to sign the proclamation,” Olivar said.
The government earlier cited four feasible and inexpensive options to address power crisis.
This includes demand management, leasing of generators, transferring available power barges from Luzon to Mindanao, and re-scheduling working hours.
On the suggestion of firms to operate during “off-peak” hours, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., Olivar said Mindanao business sectors are favorable about it.
“I think the business sector in Mindanao is generally supportive of the actions that may be undertaken on this situation,” he said.
Olivar also said the extent of the state of calamity will depend on how soon the rain comes.
He warned about rise in power cost, but said it is also temporary.
P10 billion direct aid
Meanwhile, congressmen conducting a public hearing in Davao City Thursday passed a resolution urging President Arroyo to allocate P10 billion as direct aid for Mindanao that is now suffering from power crisis and the onslaught of El Niño.
House Committee on Energy headed by Pampanga Representative Mikey Arroyo and more than 14 lawmakers attending the hearing all agreed that the Mindanao power and agricultural crisis must be addressed immediately by the National Government.
The lawmakers urged Arroyo to allocate P5.5 billion to address the power deficiency in the island and another P4.5 billion for agriculture.
The congressmen said the fund will be sourced from the budget of the Office of the President and from the calamity fund that will be available upon the declaration of a state of calamity by the President.
May 10 elections
In a related development, the Dabawenyo businessman also said the presidential elections on May 10 will surely be affected as well with the possible Mindanao grid collapse.
But Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said Commission on Elections can always hire the National Power Corporation as its agent that will take care of the problem on supplying enough electricity to precincts during the election day.
It was learned that a Power Task Force is already in place for the coming elections.
Reyes said they will be tapping the cooperation of the Department of Education, the Department of National Defense and all the other government agencies that will be taking part in ensuring smooth elections on May 10.(Ben O. Tesiorna and Gigie Agtay of Sun.Star Davao/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)