Energy chief slams NGCP for refusing inspection of control center

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Alfonso G. Cusi
Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi — PHILSTAR

By Victor V. Saulon, Sub-editor

ENERGY SECRETARY Alfonso G. Cusi on Friday issued a stronger statement against National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), the operator of the country’s transmission system, and the privately owned company’s link to China and the foreign country’s alleged capability to remotely shut down the local power grid.

His statement comes after NGCP earlier this week dismissed talk that the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) could cripple the Philippines’ power transmission.

“I wouldn’t say it’s unfounded. It’s a concern that has been raised before. Potentially, I repeat potentially, they can do it (remotely shut down) considering its digital nature,” Mr. Cusi said in a text message to reporters.

“Unfortunately, NGCP has been uncooperative to open itself for an audit to once and for all answer the issue,” he added.

Mr. Cusi said NGCP had prevented and continues to deny state-led National Transmission Corp. (TransCo) from inspecting the power transmission’s control centers “and how they use the other infrastructure under their control.”

“It has always been our position that the Systems Operations should be recovered by the government for the reason that a private company or a private individual should not be given the control over the most critical infrastructure of the state — the transmission grid network — capable of transmitting power and digital data,” he said.

“Systems Operations comprises just about 6% of the whole transmission business. It is not critical to the business of NGCP. It should not have been included in the Concession Contract in the first place. However, it is critical for the existence of the State. It is critical too for making sure it aligns with the operations of WESM (Wholesale Electricity Spot Market),” he added.

Initially, the Energy chief said what he wants is a full independent audit with appropriate agencies of government properly represented. He added that he directed TransCo to write NGCP on the matter.

“After all, they already stated they are now willing to open their systems to the government,” he said.

TransCo has written to NGCP President and Chief Executive Officer Anthony L. Almeda on Friday to propose a vulnerability assessment and penetration testing (VAPT) of the transmission network and system, including telecommunications, and its associated applications and software.

In his letter, TransCo President and Chief Executive Officer Melvin A. Matibag also criticized NGCP’s statement that it was an “open book” and was willing to be audited.

He invited the NGCP official to “a meeting at your most convenient time” to discuss national security protocols.

“Moreover, to remove fear of the public as to issue of national security, we also propose representations from the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). Corollary to the conduct of the VAPT is the conduct of physical inventory of all transmission projects,” Mr. Matibag said.

NGCP did not immediately respond when asked to comment on Mr. Cusi’s statement and Mr. Matibag’s letter.

The company on Wednesday said SGCC has a 40% stake in NGCP, but the controlling 60% belongs to Filipino companies Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp. and Calaca High Power Corp. with 30% shares each.

As such, SGCC has only three nominees who sit as members of the NGCP board of directors, representing the company and proportionate to its capital shares, it added.

“SGCC serves only as the technical adviser of the consortium, but the management and the control of NGCP, including its Systems Operation, are exclusively exercised by Filipinos,” Mr. Almeda said.

He added that Mr. Cusi had inspected the NGCP facilities in August 2017, and that the company had not entered into other businesses, other than those permitted under its concession agreement.

Telecommunication companies use NGCP facilities through co-location agreements, the company said. These deals allow a third-party to “piggy-back” on its right-of-way or existing facilities except tapping into or using the transmission service provider’s fiber optic cables, it said.