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Transparency on power plant outages sought by consumer group

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POWER generation companies must disclose their plant maintenance schedule for this year until 2022 to fully inform the public, a consumer advocacy group said after the Energy department warned of a possible electricity supply shortfall during the summer months.

If they fail to do so, then the Department of Energy (DoE) should release the three-year outage schedule, which is available to it, the power producers group, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), and system operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), it added.

“The maintenance schedule of the power plants are not commercial and proprietary information. The disclosure of such information promotes accountability and transparency and serve the purpose of checks and balances amongst the stakeholders, regulators and consumers,” said Laban Konsyumer Inc. President Victorio Mario A. Dimagiba in his letter to DoE Director Mario C. Marasigan dated Feb. 24, 2020.

“All types of consumers, whether industrial, commercial and residential can better prepare their operational plans during the period,” he added in his letter, which he released to reporters.

LKI’s position is a response to the DoE briefing on Friday during which Mr. Marasigan, director of the electric power industry management bureau, said that the department, along with industry stakeholders, had come up with an action plan to address supply issues in April to June.

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Mr. Dimagiba said members of the Philippine Independent Power Producers Association (PIPPA) should have been present to inform consumers of the power supply and maintenance schedule during the summer months.

The DoE has said that based on its demand forecast, the peak demand for 2020 is at 12,285 megawatts (MW) for Luzon; 2,519 MW for Visayas and 2,278 MW for Mindanao. It said that while there is enough power capacity at present, depending on the volume of forced power plant outages, yellow or red alerts may be raised.

NGCP said the Luzon grid, where power supply is problematic during summer, needs around 4% of the peak demand or around 491 MW in regulating power to stabilize the grid. It also needs to maintain power equivalent to the largest plant online, usually equivalent to 647 MW, as contingency power to support the grid in case of an emergency power plant shutdown.

Should the net operating margin fall below these numbers, NGCP issues a yellow alert. If the power supply falls below the system peak demand, it issues a red alert, which means rotating power interruptions may be implemented to protect the integrity of the power grid.

In 2019, Luzon was placed under 51 yellow alerts and 15 red alerts, as against only seven yellow alerts in 2018, Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said in a briefing on Monday.

Mr. Marasigan said the DoE’s action plan would ensure that Luzon is saved from a red alert during summer.

“Yellow lang ang possibility (Yellow alert is the only possibility),” he said, adding that it could happen only if there are unscheduled plant outages.

Mr. Marasigan added that the action plan is a work in progress. He added that should there be a red alert, Meralco’s interruptible load program (ILP) is in place to ease power demand.

Meralco said it was soliciting for more enrollment in the ILP, a scheme that prompts private entities to run their own power generation units to ease the demand from the grid.

“[We’re targeting] between 600 to 700 [MW],” said Lawrence S. Fernandez, Meralco vice-president and head of utility economics.

He said each ILP participant has a target period to activate its generation sets. Last year, the utility was able to realize a “deloading capacity” of between 120-150 MW at any given time.

“DoE set a meeting with the RES (retail electricity supplier) association [because] most of them are customers of the retailers. Hopefully after that, we’ll get more enrollees,” he said.

“These are customers who were in the program before, and then when they switched suppliers they did not re-contract. We’re hoping that they can re-contract. They can come back to the program,” he added.

Mr. Fernandez was referring to consumers whose electricity consumption reached the threshold set by the ERC, allowing them to contract their power supply directly from a RES, which offers competitively priced electricity compared with that of a distribution utility.

Mr. Dimagiba said last year’s alert notices resulted in the load average weighted prices at the wholesale electricity spot market to shoot up to P7.89 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) while the lowest was at P2.06 per kWh.

Consumers absorbed the high prices as a passed on cost from the distribution utilities and electric cooperatives, he said. — Victor V. Saulon

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