FICELCO, Sunwest set to sign 3rd Amendment on power deal

Engr. Raul Zafe, the general manager of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO), revealed last week that the cooperative will sign a third amendment to its Electricity Supply Agreement (ESA) with its only remaining power supplier, Sunwest Water & Electric Co. (SUWECO).

In an interview with the local media last week, GM Zafe said the FICELCO Board of Directors recently met with SUWECO officials before the lockdown to discuss its options in view of the fact that the procurement of a new power provider will take two to three years to complete, assuming a winning bid is declared under the Competitive Selection Process (CSP).

The proposed 3rd Amendment will cover the forecast energy shortfall during the next three years while the CSP is being conducted.

Under the amendment, SUWECO will commit to supply all electricity the Catanduanes grid will need during said period. The amendment will include the two modular diesel generating sets that SUWECO had promised to install last April 2020 but was unable to do so on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company, which began operating its hydroelectric power plants in Solong and Hitoma as part of its renewable power strategy, has since sourced the majority of its contracted electricity from its diesel gensets installed as back-ups under the first two amendments of the ESA. Its Hitoma I HPP has been out of action since last year allegedly due to damage to its reservoir and penstock while the construction of its proposed Capipian hydro plant, supposed to have been operating in December 2019, has been stalled by the restrictions imposed under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS) Act that took effect last year.

Early last March, the cooperative was in talks with a Korean company on the latter’s proposal to build a hybrid solar-diesel power plant on the island, part of which will come in the form of a grant.

In the past few weeks, there have been intermitted power interruptions on the island, which GM Zafe attributed to the thin power reserve in the grid.

“We are at a critical level,” he said, as the reserve is only between 600 to 700 kilowatts. “Anytime any of the one-megawatt diesel genset fails, there will be a deficit, resulting in brownouts.”

He warned that there would be rotating brownouts if one or two SUWECO power plants conk out and the National Power Corporation (NPC) does not make good on its promise to step in during such situations.

He also blamed the numerous brownouts during the passage of typhoon “Ambo” to trees touching the power lines. Power was also cut off for a longer period when SUWECO shut down its diesel gensets as a precaution upon the raising of storm signal number 3, the GM added.

It may be recalled that last April 25, 2020, Napocor’s supply contract with FICELCO expired after the state power firm refused to reconsider its decision not to renew the deal. Instead, it assured the cooperative that it would run its power plants if the need arises.

Since then, all its diesel power plants at Marinawa and Viga have fallen silent despite being manned by NPC technical personnel, with only the Balongbong mini-hydroelectric power plant operated occasionally at times of high water level in its reservoir.

GM Zafe bared that Napocor is asking too many documents and clearances from higher-ups for the operation of its power plants in case of a severe power lack. The cooperative formally requested that NPC spell out the terms for its re-entry into the Catanduanes grid if it is asked to during an unstable power situation after NPC officials here did not commit to an automatic operation of its assets, saying they would have to consult the higher-ups.

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