A series of brief but unscheduled blackouts last week has brought out a bit of unsettling news: the
National Power Corporation is leaving the Catanduanes grid this March 2022.
Engr. Raul Zafe, the general manager of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) who
once worked for Napocor, confirmed this in an interview with the Tribune last Friday, Jan. 7.
He disclosed that the state-owned power firm was supposed to let go of its power generation function in
the island last December 2021 but had to reschedule its departure.
It turned out that the cooperative’s sole power provider, Sunwest Water & Electricity Co. (SUWECO)
would not be able to fulfill its promise of installing seven brand-new diesel generators from India last
Instead, it assured that the gensets would arrive within the first three months of the new year.
This would not be the first time that the company was not able to keep its vow.
Following Napocor’s decision to pull out from Catanduanes, FICELCO, SUWECO and Napocor agreed
during a meeting that to ensure reliable operation, it would be better for SUWECO to transfer all its diesel
gensets in Solong, San Miguel, to the power plant in Marinawa, Bato.
That way, it would be just a hundred meters away from the Napocor switchyard and at least guarantee
However, while in the midst of transferring its modular gensets, the private power provider’s crane broke
down and the company had to order the needed spare part from outside the island, preventing it from
finishing the job by the end of 2021.
Now that all the Solong gensets had been transferred, all it had to do was to interconnect the gensets to
the switchyard and to energize the plant.
All was well when the energization began but as the load was increased, fluctuations in the power factor
occurred, according to GM Zafe.
Even the NPC’s Daihatsu 3.6-megawatt diesel genset was not able to interface with the grid, forcing the
FICELCO manager to order that the unit be set aside for now.
Anyway, he said, SUWECO’s remaining power units as well as the some production from the two
hydroelectric plants in Hitoma and Solong, together with two small gensets of Napocor, would be enough
to supply the demand in the island grid.
Zafe, however, warned that power supply in Catanduanes would be critical by the summer months
without the 3.6-megawatt genset of Napocor, if the seven gensets promised by SUWECO are not
installed before then.
Given this uncertainty, concerned public officials, power supply advocates and Member-Consumer-
Owners of the cooperative should raise the question of how reliable the supply of electricity would be
once Napocor leaves.
What happens to the 3.6-mW diesel genset at Marinawa? Will it be sold to SUWECO or FICELCO so it
would provide a stable base load plant?
Would Napocor give back to FICELCO the Balongbong mini-hydroelectric power plant that it took over in
1988 for just P35 million, an amount that it has already recovered many times over in the last three
decades? Or would SUWECO snap it up in a public auction?
For sure, the latter scenario would not occur, as the land on which the Balongbong MHPP was donated to
the cooperative on the condition that it would operate the hydro plant.
This early, Congressman Hector Sanchez, whose submarine power cable project remains a dream,
should instead refocus his efforts on helping FICELCO recover Balongbong MHPP from the national
Governor Joseph Cua and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, as well as the 11 mayors, could add their
voices to the cooperative’s still pending appeal.
The hydro plant may be able to supply only a sixth of the grid’s current demand but the lower rate of the
electricity it would generate under FICELCO’s management could at least reduce the burden of
There is no time to lose, given Napocor’s scheduled pullout in March and the impending exit of the
Duterte administration in less than six months.