NGCP audit ‘only way’ to address China fears

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power lines

THE DEPARTMENT of Energy (DoE) said the only way to achieve ”closure” on the issue of China’s alleged capability to remotely shut down the power transmission system is a audit of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP).

“Is the threat real or imagined? That can only be answered by us, the government, inspecting it and making sure… that the oversight function of the government is carried and we put in place whatever measures that would prevent it from happening,” Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi said Monday.

He made the remarks in response to questions during a briefing at the DoE head office in Taguig City to launch the celebrations for the National Energy Consciousness Month and the department’s 47th anniversary.

Kaya ba nila i-shutdown (Can they shut it down)? In this digital age, anything and practically everything is possible remotely,” he said.

Mr. Cusi said when he assumed office in 2016, he asked that the grid facilities be inspected by National Transmission Corp. (TransCo), the government company that owns the transmission assets.

He said on many occasions NGCP refused inspection. He said his office “then and now” wanted to find out how the fiber optics at the transmission facilities are being used because of the government’s plan to use it for the national broadband network.

“So we asked, how is it being used then and now, who is using and what is the revenue?” he said, adding that revenue could have been used to reduce the transmission cost, which is part of electricity consumers monthly bill.

Mr. Cusi said he was giving China the benefit of the doubt that it would not shut down the Philippines’ transmission system, noting that the State Grid Corporation of China, which a 40% stake in NGCP, also operates in Australia.

“The only way that we can put a closure to this is that we inspect. We need to do our job,” he said.

Energy Undersecretary Felix William B. Fuentebella said the assessment of NGCP’s facilities was not meant to be a “blame game” but to allow the DoE “to see where we are we now and where are we going in the future” to improve the transmission system.

Melvin A. Matibag, TransCo president and chief executive officer, said the company as well as the government, including Mr. Cusi, will not resort to an action that is against the law or the concession agreement with NGCP.

However, he questioned whether the top official of NGCP has national security clearance to have access to the Virtual Private Network (VPN), which the grid operator said is disconnected from the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, the system that controls the grid.

NGCP had said that VPN access may be granted only to its Filipino chief executive officer in an emergency and only through a secure, confidential approval process.

Hindi naman… gagawin ng China (I don’t think China will do this). In fact, I want to make it clear we are not referring to China. We are referring to the concessionaire — the NGCP,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cusi gave a brief report on some of the DoE’s milestones for 2019, including the policies and programs on energy security such as the Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program and the issuance of a circular covering the general framework on ancillary services, or the contracting of reserve power.

He also said the DoE was able to issue an order allowing the direct remittance of financial benefits to hosts of power generation and energy resource development projects.

The department also initiated rules relating to the further development of renewable energy. — Victor V. Saulon