Energy chief: Mindanao power crisis over by May

DAVAO CITY (Updated) -- Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras boldly predicted that the problem on power supply in Mindanao could be over by the end of May this year, if everything goes well as planned.

In Friday’s 1st Mindanao Power Summit held in this city and attended by no less than President Benigno Aquino III, Almendras said the government has identified several solutions to the problem and all that is lacking is "the cooperation of everyone."

"If everybody cooperates, there's a good chance that we could solve significant portion of the shortage by end of May. Next year, if we don't bring additional generations and there is no contract to buy the generation, then we will be back to power shortage," he said.

The secretary outlined the government’s proposed short-term and medium-term solutions to the problem. The short-term would be for generation of power from already existing power sources, and getting Iligan power plant up and running.

Almendras said there are several existing power generators in Mindanao that could be tapped to immediately address the problem.

For instance, he said, the Iligan power plant could readily generate 20 megawatts (MW) of power once running and could achieve 100MW power generation in less than one year.

The medium-term solutions proposed by the government, meanwhile, are: getting more barges to augment more sources until such time that the power plants are up and running, and rehabilitation of the Agus and Pulangi hydro power plants.

Almendras said it will take about 30 months to rehabilitate the Agus plant and one month for Pulangi.

Governors’ stand

Aquino attends Mindanao Power Crisis
DAVAO. President Benigno Aquino III gestures as he discussed with local officials and power industry stakeholders the proposed solutions to Mindanao power crisis in Friday's 1st Mindanao Power Summit held at WaterFront Insular Hotel. (King Rodriguez)

Leading Mindanao leaders, meanwhile, urged President Aquino to defer the privatization of the Agus and Pulangi hydropower plants as mandated under the Epira Law.

Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario said there is a big possibility for private power providers to have a cartel on power if these plants are privatized.

The governor said even this early, "there is already a semblance of control by some private power companies."

"We ask you Mr. President to certify as urgent for Epira Law to be revisited and look into the privatization of the two government-owned power plants," del Rosario said.

The Governors League of the Philippines supported this call and expressed opposition to the privatization of Agus and Pulangi.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman said power generation, especially in Mindanao, must never be left alone to private companies.

"This is public utility and public service, this must not be privatized," Hataman said.

Power summit lauded

Rally during Mindanao Power Summit
DAVAO. A protester wears mask as they staged a rally outside the Waterfront Insular Hotel amid more than a hundred policemen who secured the venue of the 1st Mindanao Power Summit. (King Rodriguez)

Lanao del Norte Governor Khalid Dimaporo lauded the National Government for the holding of the power summit in Mindanao.

He said the summit has become the venue for all stakeholders to fully understand the present power situation in Mindanao.

"Now, we know what the game plan is, the game plan is that the power plant needs to be renovated. Lanao will support the plan of the National Government," Dimaporo said.

General Santos City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio said that after the several forums she attended with regard the power situation in Mindanao, it was only during Friday’s summit was she able to know of the real score.

Earlier, several officials claimed that there is actually no power crisis in Mindanao and that some sectors are merely floating an artificial power crisis scenario so as to compel the local power cooperatives to buy power from the much more expensive power barges.

No less than Mindanao Development Authority chair Luwalhati Antonino said the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines is behind the artificial power crisis so as to compel the National Government to privatize the hydropower plants.

President’s reply

But President Aquino said there is a possibility for them to defer further the privatization of the Agus-Pulangi plants.

He was worried though on the existing P928-billion debt of the National Power Corporation (Napocor) that is being shouldered by the National Government at present. It was learned that in 2003, Napocor had a P1.24-trillion debt.

Aquino said the National Government only has P400 billion to spend for all the needs of the country, adding it is impossible for them to be spending it all to address the power crisis in Mindanao, thus there is a need for private entities to come in.

It’s my fault

Almendras admitted fault over the power crisis being felt in Mindanao.

In his presentation before hundreds of politicians and industry players during the summit, Almendras said his office failed to execute their plans to avert the power problem in Mindanao and that the buck stops in his office and should not be blamed on President Aquino.

"We are not without fault. We failed in executing our plans. This is not the President's failure," Almendras said.

Aquino, however, cleared Almendras of any fault, saying the secretary is doing a good job to address the problem on power supply in Mindanao.

"Secretary Almendras has become the favorite whipping boy of many people but it's not fair to be blaming the secretary," Aquino said.

The President said they were made aware of the looming power crisis in Mindanao the moment he became President and that they've been working on the solution since then. (Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)
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