DAVAO CITY -- Power rates in Mindanao can go as high as P15 to P19 per kilowatt hour once emergency power "quick fixes" begin to operate, a National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) official said.

This rate is far higher than the Luzon rate, which is supposed to be the most expensive to date in the Philippines.

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"We need these quick fixes because building a power plant will take as long as four to five years. We have two choices: cheaper power now but it's not enough or expensive power but there will be a supply. We have come to a point where we need to choose," NGCP regional corporate executive Edgardo Calabio said.

Calabio said the P15-P19 will be the probable power rate hike once generator sets begin to operate. Government is offering incentives for generator set lessors and the amount is what these interested lessors have proposed.

"These are coming from the proponent of those generator sets. Ito yung rate nila. But this won't be outright P15 to P19 because you will still have to mix the power with the other sources. Posibleng mas mababa pa rito. How they will charge it will still also have to undergo negotiation," Calabio said in an interview Wednesday.

"But it's another story if you should like to contract outright to the supplier. If gensets are contracted by the government, hire these equipments then the NPC (National Power Corporation) will have to mix the power with plants. This will absorb some of the rates," Calabio said.

Calabio said currently Luzon has an average power rate of P9.50 per kilowatt hour, P7.50 for Visayas and P6.50 for Mindanao.

"Mindanao has lower rates because there are more hydroplants here, but the lower rate is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing for the consumers but if you want investors to come in then they'd be discouraged. We have to look at the usual business practice. They want a reasonable return but the thing in Mindanao it's not ideal for people to come in. There are more players in Luzon. In Mindanao we have none. Our rates are not competitive.

Calabio also expressed confidence that power investors can prove their rates.

"I’m sure that new entrants can justify their rates but should be rationalized. They should be able to show these are the rates because these are the costs. There are actually companies that are putting up it now in Saranggani, a 250 megawatt coal plant but it's because they really believe in that part of Mindanao. They believe they can get a good return," Calabio said.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza said within 60 days, Mindanao will be 200 megawatts less of its power supply shortage.

Mendoza said a proposal from Mindanao Electric Power Alliance (Mepa) has been submitted to Malacañang Tuesday afternoon.

The proposal says generators to be rented from Singapore, Australia, and the United States will cost up to 200 million dollars and will be delivered within 60 days, according to Mendoza.

The generators are set to be deployed to Zamboanga City.

Mendoza is projecting that the entire supply shortage will be mitigated by December.

Calabio on the other hand projected that power generation in the country will return to normalcy by January. "What we were thinking is if the gensets will come around August, and then maybe the hydro facility can operate by November or December then we could normalize a bit. Normalize in a sense that there will no longer be brownouts," he said.

"But even though we have a normal situation, a normal water level, we came to a point wherein in Mindanao power supply cannot meet the demand. Power generation in the country are split 80 percent from the north and 20 percent from the south. The use of the power grid is to bring the power here in Mindanao because we have lesser power generators here," Calabio said.

Calabio said talks are currently done in Malacañang on what resolutions can be made on the Mindanao power crisis but as to what has been discussed he cannot elaborate.

Calabio spoke as a speaker in a forum on the national elections and the El Niño phenomenon. Calabio spoke to information officers from government units in the region on the power crisis.

"You have to relay the truth to offices so that the people won't be left in the dark. A rise in power rates is inevitable. We have to face the facts, the true cost of power," Calabio said.

Meanwhile, latest figures from the NGCP showed that the deficiency in the power supply of Mindanao was only at 580 megawatts, lower than the 600 megawatts shortfall last Monday.

The decrease in the supply gap is due to the decrease in peak demand from more than 1,470 megawatts to its present peak demand of only 1,386 megawatts.

The reason for the supply gap remains to be the low water levels at Lanao Lake brought about by the El Niño phenomenon, lowering the available capacities from the grid's main power sources -- National Power Corporation's hydro power plants Agus and Pulangi.

Mindanao produces only 806 megawatts of power while its peak demand reaches 1,386 megawatts, creating a supply gap of 580 megawatts. In the Visayas, a supply gap of 124 megawatts is created as its peak demand for the power supply is at 1,175 megawatts while generation is only at 1,062 megawatts.

It is only Luzon which has a power reserve of 773 megawatts as it produces 7,780 megawatts while its peak demand is only at 7,007 megawatts.

Most electric companies in Mindanao have stopped implementing rotating brownouts except for South Cotabato, according to the South Cotabato Electric Cooperative (Socoteco 1).

Socoteco explained in a statement that the steady supply of electricity in South Cotabato still cannot be assured because the water level in Lake Lanao, the main source of hydro-electric energy in the region, remains to be low.

South Cotabato still experiences up to three hours of brownouts every day. (Jade Jade C. Zaldivar and Carlo P. Mallo of Sun.Star Davao/Angela Casauay/Sunnex)