Cong. Sanchez, power firms
take action vs. brownouts

In a meeting with Congressman Hector S. Sanchez last week, the three major players in the Catanduanes island grid have agreed to undertake moves intended to boost power reserves and reduce unscheduled brownouts.
The Oct. 13, 2021 meeting at the headquarters of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) was called by the congressman to discuss immediate solutions to recent unannounced power interruptions largely blamed on inadequate supply provided by Sunwest Water & Electric Co. (SUWECO).
Aside from Sanchez, present during the meeting were FICELCO management and technical personnel led by General Manager Raul V. Zafe and SUWECO Vice President for Operations Danilo Pilones and staff.
The Board of Directors, represented by Pres. Rodolfo Vargas, and the National Power Corporation (NPC) Bicol Operations Division headed by Engr. Edwin Tatel joined in via Zoom.
In a recent post, the cooperative said that the series of power interruptions due to the synchronization problem between the generating units into the grid system that resulted in so-called unbalanced loading. It advised SUWECO to check and improve their power plant grounding system.
During the meeting, however, Engr. Pilones disputed FICELCO’s finding and pointed to the lack of reclosers as the main fault in their power plants’ overloading once a line fault occurs.
To FICELCO’s suggestion that the time delay in the protection system of SUWECO’s plants be revisited, the private power provider urged the installation of vibration dampers along the power lines and agreed to revisit protection settings in a coordinated procedure.
GM Zafe admitted that all reclosers in the distribution line were damaged during super typhoon Rolly in November 2020 and that only one is currently installed.
While it takes five to 10 minutes to restore feeders after a line fault, the GM disclosed that it takes far more time for the cooperative’s dispatcher to contact the power plants using cellphones which are usually beset by weak signals.
Stepping in, Cong. Sanchez offered to provide modern radio communications to the cooperative at no interest, with the cost to be shared by FICELCO and SUWECO just to improve coordination between them especially during power outages and restoration of downed plants.
The solon said one base radio and 10 portables should be enough to enable communication between the power plants in Hitome, Viga, Solong, Balongbong and Marinawa.
GM Zafe also asked SUWECO to purchase the needed reclosers just like what it did in Tablas, Mindoro Occidental where the cooperative reimbursed the private firm for the reclosers the latter bought.
He recalled that SUWECO had earlier agreed to purchase P3 million worth of reclosers upon request of the FICELCO board.
In response, Pilones said he will seek the approval of management, with the company to first implement what it described as “load sharing” between its four existing power plants.
He likewise agreed to submit to the management the proposal that it install a low-speed base load plant to complement its high-speed diesel gensets. However, he asked if consumers are willing to shoulder the additional cost recovery of the baseload power plant, which would raise power rates.
On the other hand, NPC’s Tatel announced that the state-owned power firm has agreed to operate Unit No. 2 of the Balongbong Hydro Power Plant as well as Marinawa DPP’s Unit No. 7 although the latter has yet to be granted the required Certificate of Compliance (COC) from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
NPC’s assets in Catanduanes – the Balongbong HPP, Viga DPP and Marinawa DPP – has been operating intermittently as needed by the grid over the past year.
With more than a million pesos worth of electricity already delivered to the grid, NPC has yet to be paid for the service by the cooperative in the absence of an approved electricity supply agreement.
It may be recalled that two years ago, the corporation revoked the lease agreement over the 3.6-megawatt base power plant at Marinawa.
Recently, it has submitted to FICELCO an interim supply agreement good for five years, longer than the initial one-year offered by then NPC president Pio Benavidez Jr.
While NPC is supposed to pull out entirely by Dec. 31, 2021, Cong. Sanchez appealed to the company not to stay a little longer in consideration of the island grid’s situation.
“Manipis na manipis pa ang reserve ngayon,” he stressed. “Malaking problema ito pang tinanggal ninyo ang facilities ninyo dito dahil sigurado magkakagulo ang buong isla.”
Engr. Tatel agreed that the withdrawal, which should be done in consultation with FICELCO and SUWEDO, should be gradual and not immediate.
He also assured that even if NPC pulls out, SUWECO is still guaranteed to the Universal Charge-Missionary Electrification (UCME) subsidy so as to maintain a relatively low rate of electricity in the island.
On the issue of FICELCO’s bid to recover that the Balongbong HPP, the NPC official said he will seek advice from top management as it remains part of NPC’s assets.
The hydro power plant was taken over by NPC in 1988 pursuant to a Palace order but FICELCO maintains no ownership document was ever transferred to NPC and that the land on which it was built is still owned by the cooperative.
A source told the Tribune that the NPC has already earned considerably from the “bread-and-butter” hydro plant, much more than the cooperative’s previous debts to the National Electrification Administration (NEA) that was the reason for the takeover.
Recently, the Department of Energy, in a letter to GM Zafe, suggested that the cooperative explore further negotiation with the National Power Corporation “to utilize the Balongbong Mini-Hydro Power Plant beyond its current intended purpose for ancillary service or reacquire its ownership” in order to upgrade the plant and optimize the hydro potential for least cost and sustainable electricity.

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