Energy department asks power plant operators to explain as thin reserves hit Luzon’s grid anew

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By Victor V. Saulon

THE DEPARTMENT of Energy (DoE) on Thursday signaled that it is open to legal action against power generation companies that fail to adequately explain their unscheduled plant shutdowns in recent days, as the Luzon grid could remain at risk from possible power outages until June.

DoE Undersecretary William Felix B. Fuentebella told reporters that the department had sent letters to the four power plant operators that were unable to run their facilities and another whose plant did not operate at full capacity, instructing them to air their side.

Asked whether a case could be filed against plant operators, Mr. Fuentebella replied: “If we really see something na (that is) anti-competitive or close to sabotage, we will not hesitate. But of course we have to be fair.”

The DoE’s stance came after the Luzon grid on Thursday was again placed on red alert after reserve power thinned and was unable to meet the required level to meet consumer demand.

Yesterday’s red alert is the second straight day that such situation was declared by system operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP). The warning was issued after the system’s dispatchable and contingency reserves — equivalent to the capacity of Luzon’s two biggest power plants with 647 megawatts (MW) each — were wiped out.

Luzon grid was running on its regulating reserves, which is four percent of system peak demand during the day. Power demand peaked at 10,607 MW against available capacity of 10,761 MW.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the grid was placed on red alert, although this was lifted at 2:18 p.m.

But it was kept at yellow alert at 3-9 p.m.

NGCP warned of a possible “manual load dropping” or rotational brownout at 1-2 p.m. in Angeles, Pampanga, parts of Bataan, parts of Batangas, parts of Albay and parts of Metro Manila.

Mr. Fuentebella said the DoE collates data related to the plant shutdowns and submits them to the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Philippine Competition Commission.

He said the show-cause letters sent to the power generation companies, which were signed by Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi, sought to clarify if the reports submitted to the DoE were correct. “Kung tama, ano’ng nangyari sa kanila, bakit nasira, bakit de-rated (If correct, what happened to them, why did the plants fail, why were they de-rated)?” he said, adding that the explanation should include “pieces of evidence” such as pictures and videos. “Ang pinaka-importanteng tanong: kelan kayo babalik, anong oras (The most important question is when are your plants coming back on line and at what time).”

The DoE identified the plants on unscheduled outage as unit 1 of the Sual, Pangasinan power plant with 647 MW; unit 2 of South Luzon Power Generation Corp.’s plant, 150 MW; unit 3 of the Pagbilao, Quezon plant, 420 MW; and unit 1 of South Luzon Thermal Energy Corp.’s plant, 135 MW. They will be back online on April 17, April 21, April 16 and April 13, respectively.

The de-rated plant was unit 2 of the Calaca power plant, which was producing 200 MW against a 300 MW installed capacity.

Sought for comment, Manila Electric Co. Spokesman Joe R. Zaldarriaga said 122 customers under the utility’s interruptible load program voluntarily disconnected from the grid, thus freeing 249 MW of consumer demand. “This certainly helped avert possible outage today,” he said.

Asked whether the four plants that shut down had been consistently failing this year, Fidel L. Dagsaan, Jr., NGCP division head for power network planning, replied: “Ngayon lang ‘yun (It’s only now).”