10-hour brownout hits Central Mindanao

KORONADAL CITY – Officials said Central Mindanao’s power supply condition worsened further Thursday causing around 10-hour outages in several localities and affected workers' productivity.

Thursday's blackout, which was almost straight 10 hours from just two hours on rotating basis in the city, the regional seat of government of Central Mindanao, came unannounced.

Santiago C. Tudio, South Cotabato Electric Cooperative I manager, said the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) further curtailed load supply in Central Mindanao region, causing blackouts in this city and in the towns of Tantangan and Tampakan in South Cotabato and Lutayan in Sultan Kudarat.

In a bid to curb losses to companies, the regional Department of Labor and Employment called on electric distributors across the region to schedule the brownouts to allow companies to adjust their work programs.

In the wake of this development, Nacionalista Party (NP) standard bearer Manny Villar vowed Thursday to work for the full and immediate privatization of all National Power Corp. (Napocor) power plants and power purchase agreements as a major step to solve the country's energy problems, particularly in Mindanao.

"Fully implement the Electric Power Industry Reform Act law, which provides for the full privatization of Napocor's power plants, as well as all PPAs (power purchase agreements). This is priority A-1 under my presidency," Villar said.

Blackouts also hit the Cotabato Electric Cooperative and the Lanao del Sur Electric Cooperative, which serves North Cotabato and Lanao del Sur towns respectively, he added.

"Consumers should brace for longer power outages that could last until June or July," Tudio told reporters, citing the lack of new power generating units in Mindanao that could have addressed the situation.

He noted that power produced from the Agus plants has been reduced to 50 percent capacity and Pulangi dams declining to 75 percent, due to the continued decline of water level as a result of the El Niño phenomenon.

For South Cotabato, the NGCP curtailed 18 megawatts (MW), out of the nearly 30 MW required daily by the province, Tudio said.

Ma. Gloria A. Tango, regional Labor department director, said no firms in the region so far have notified the agency of workers' retrenchment as a result of the abnormal power condition.

"The companies are implementing flexible work schedules to adjust to the electricity shortage," she said in a phone interview, adding that the regional office has yet to formulate a contingency measure once business firms cut their workforce due to the power crisis.

She called on electric utilities to fix the brownout schedules so that companies could prepare or adjust work schedules.

But next month, Tango said regional wage boards across Mindanao will meet in Davao City to discuss the power supply situation with the energy sector and labor and private business leaders.

"The power shortage could lead to the impact that may trigger clamors for wage hike increases among workers," she warned, apparently referring to lower productivity pay to some workers due to shorter work hours.

Villar explained that the power situation in Mindanao continues to worsen because the government has been unable to institute measures to bring in investments in the power sector.

The last power plant that was opened in Mindanao was in 2007 when a coal-fired plant in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental was inaugurated.

Other proposed power plants like the 42.5-MW hydropower plant in Sibulan, Davao del Sur and the 27-MW Tamugan hydropower plant in Davao City will still take years before coming on-stream, while a 200-MW coal-fired plant in Maasim, Sarangani is expected to start operations by 2012.

"Mindanao continues to labor under a lack of investments in its power sector. This has discouraged many investors from setting up factories and economic zones in the region. I intend to pave the way for these investors to come in and generate economic activity and jobs in the region," Villar said.

At the same time, the NP presidential candidate pledged to prioritize the development of alternative energy in the country by creating pilot sites in Mindanao.

"I will task agencies like the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Science and Technology to draw up an alternative energy master plan and develop pilot projects in Mindanao," Villar said.

In 2007, oil accounted for 55.9 percent of the country’s energy demand followed by coal at 23.9 percent, gas at 12.4 percent and hydro electric energy at 7.8 percent.

The power supply in Mindanao continues to worsen as the shortage has now hit 358 MW, according to NGCP.

NGCP data showed that the available capacity on the island was now only 842 MW as against peak demand of 1,200 MW. (Nelson C. Bagaforo and Bong S. Sarmiento)

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