Cong. Sanchez needs to support FICELCO’s bid to recover the Balongbong hydropower plant

With the impending departure of the National Power Corporation from the Catanduanes grid, there is now added impetus for Congressman Hector Sanchez to make good on his submarine power cable proposal.

But it is highly likely that the much-promoted project would not be realized or even started within the last four months of the Duterte administration.

Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who spearheaded that signing of a memorandum of agreement between local officials, DOE and the National Transmission Corporation (Transco) over the submarine power cable project, is now embroiled in a plunder case over the controversial sale of the government’s Malampaya gas field stakes to Duterte campaign financier and Davao tycoon Dennis Uy.

The other officials are most probably preparing for their exits from their departments by the time the new president takes over.

While there have been reports that Transco personnel has in fact conducted a hydrographic survey of the seabed between San Andres and the mainland, it remains to be seen whether the company has actually began planning and design works, much less set aside the required funding.

Of course, Cong. Sanchez can always rely on his promise to have the island’s soon-to-be power monopoly, Sunwest Water & Electric Co. (SUWECO), abide by its obligation to supply the electricity required by the more than 50,000 consumers of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO).

Recently, seven new diesel gensets purchase by the power provider from India arrived for installation at the old FICELCO power plant in Marinawa.

They are supposed to be commissioned on or before March 31, 2022, the last day of the extension sought by SUWECO and FICELCO from NPC so that the latter would still be available to supply 5 megawatts of standby power should SUWECO fail to provide its contracted power in full.

The cooperative is still proceeding with its plan to bid out a new power supply contract, one that involves a base-load plant that the grid needs to stabilize the power supply given the unreliability of diesel gensets and the seasonal production of hydroelectric plants.

Lately, the FICELCO management has ramped up its latest effort to reacquire the P96-million Balongbong Mini-Hydroelectric Power Plant, which was taken over in 1988 by NPC.

The purpose of the Balongbong takeover was to give Catandunganons a cheaper power rate of P2.50 per kilowatt-hour but this lasted only for 14 years.

In the two decades since, the islanders, through FICELCO, paid NPC a total of P558 million for the power generated by Balongbong MHPP.

Naturally, the state-owned power firm profited immensely from the plant built by FICELCO and operated using the island’s free and bountiful water.

If successful in its efforts, the cooperative could use the hydro plant in lowering the power rate in the Catanduanes grid and provide some relief to the people.

For one who have made “Hector!” a popular cry during intermittent brownouts, Cong. Sanchez should marshal his connections and give his best in convincing the DOE to drag NPC to the negotiating table with FICELCO with regards to the reacquisition of Balongbong MHPP.

Such a move could at least boost the congressman’s campaign to retain his seat and thus enable him to resume the pursuit of the submarine power cable project.

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