MANILA Electric Co. (Meralco) has secured provisional authority from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to start operating San Buenaventura Power Ltd.’s (SBPL) 500-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant and provide baseload capacity to the Luzon grid.

“This is a welcome development, and one that shows that ERC understands that power demand in Luzon is steadily increasing, and the conditions show that we are in dire need of additional baseload capacity,” said Jose Ronald Valles, Meralco vice-president and head of regulatory management, in a statement.

He said the output from the power plant would be a “significant contributor” to Meralco in fulfilling its mandate to provide adequate, reliable supply of electricity at the least cost.

SBPL is led by Meralco subsidiary Meralco PowerGen Corp. (MGen), which earlier scheduled the country’s first supercritical coal-fired power plant in Mauban, Quezon to start operating this month.

The developer said its incoming capacity would prove “critical” in the coming months in light of the scheduled maintenance shutdown of Luzon’s biggest power generation suppliers. It said the Ilijan power plant’s first unit with 600 MW is set to go on planned maintenance for 13 days on Oct. 3-15, and curtail its capacity from Oct. 16-18.

SBPL also expects the Sual coal power plant’s unit two with 647 MW to shut down for 30 days from Oct. 19 to Nov. 17, while the San Lorenzo plant’s module 50 with 250 MW is scheduled to go on maintenance for five days on Oct. 26-30. Masinloc unit two with 344 MW will also be on scheduled outage for 35 days, beginning Oct. 30 to Dec. 4.

The scheduled outages come as the country’s biggest natural gas facility, Malampaya, will temporarily stop supplying fuel to generation facilities on Oct. 12-15. Malampaya supplies more than 40% of Meralco’s power requirement, and provides natural gas to fuel for Sta. Rita, San Lorenzo, Ilijan, San Gabriel and Avion power plants.

SBPL’s provisional authority to operate follows the statement by Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi that his office had manifested to the ERC the importance of SBPL’s commissioning.

The plant’s commercial operation date was targeted on Sept. 15 but was deferred after the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) raised questions about SBPL’s use of water rights.

“We were able to provide adequate, factual answers immediately and NWRB responded also as promptly. Now, they are privy to the urgency of the power situation at hand, and hopefully gained new insights that will help them be more circumspect in their succeeding engagements within the power industry or beyond,” Mr. Valles said.

He said the ERC and the Department of Energy supervised “the quick resolution of the matter and thwart any further delays to the commissioning of SBPL and prevent a possible power supply problem in the Luzon grid.” — Victor V. Saulon