Brownouts seen this May-June if NPC plants stops operation

Without the National Power Corporation’s three power plants, the Catanduanes grid will experience rotational brownouts this summer from May to June, the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) predicts.

Based on one scenario of their Power-Supply Demand Outlook for 2020 operation during wet and dry operations, the non-renewal of NPC’s Power Supply Agreement (PSA) with the cooperative will take a total of 7.7 megawatts off the grid.

The state-owned power firm operates the Balongbong Hydroelectric Power Plant with a net dependable capacity of 1.8mW, the Marinawa Diesel Power Plant with 4.9mW and the Viga Diesel Power Plant with 1.2mW.

The non-operation of these plants will leave the grid solely depending on the private power supplier Sunwest Water & Electric Co. (SUWECO), which already supplies most of the island’s power requirements.

SUWECO operates the Solong Hydroelectric Power Plant (2mW net dependable capacity), the Hitoma 1 Hydroelectric Power Plant (1.35mW), the Solong Diesel Power Plant (5.8mW), the Marinawa Diesel Power Plant (4.7mW), and the Viga Diesel Power Plant (3.2mW).

However, the Hitoma 1 Hydroelectric Power Plant has not been operating for over a year since the company reported damage to its forebay, leaving a total of 17.07mW in net dependable capacity.

During summer when there is an insufficient water supply for the hydropower plants, the Power Supply-Demand Outlook forecasts an estimated capacity of 14.3mW, just short of the 14.55 expected peak load for the May to June period.

The grid will also have a thin power reserve for the succeeding three months until the rainy season begins in November 2020.

A worst-case scenario sees the grid without the NPC power plants as well as the SUWECO Marinawa Diesel Power Plant if the latter’s Amendment 2 provisional authority is not approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

This will remove another 4.7mW from the dependable capacity, resulting in long-duration rotational brownouts for the rest of the year. This could see a deficit of 8.15mW for the summer, a disastrous scenario for the 54,000 member-consumer-owners of the cooperative as well as for the local economy.

It is claimed that last December 2019, SUWECO management already informed FICELCO that it had decided to place the Marinawa DPP on temporary shutdown until further notice or on emergency operation only.

A source told the Tribune that this move was taken by the private power firm after it allegedly failed to get paid government subsidy from the Universal Charge-Missionary Electrification (UCME) fund for operating the “amendment” power plants based on the subsidized generation rate.

The actual cost of power from diesel power plants is at least P14 per kilowatt-hours while the Subsidized-Approved Generation Rate (SAGR) is only P5.6404/kWh, with the UCME subsidy accounting for the balance to be paid to the power supplier.

Under the original contract, SUWECO is supposed to construct four hydroelectric power plants but only two – Solong and Hitoma 1 – were completed.

Subsequent amendments pushed back the completion dates of the two other hydro plants, with Capipian supposed to be completed in December 2018.

SUWECO has claimed that the approval of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS Act) or Republic Act 11038 has delayed the Capipian project as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has determined that part of the Capipian project is within a Strict Protection Zone where development is prohibited.

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