Pimentel calls for power master plan for Mindanao

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ALARMED by the continuing power outages and extended blackouts in Mindanao, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III on Wednesday asked the Department of Energy (DOE) for a power master plan to end more than five years of suffering for the people of Mindanao.

Pimentel said the master plan should secure a long-term remedy to the Mindanao power problem, not just band aid solutions that have failed to address the power woes, made worse by undersupply and high costs of electricity.

He said industry experts saw the need to rehabilitate aging hydropower plants, put up new generating companies, ensure reliability of transmission lines and secure efficiency of power distributors to prevent the outages.

The Mindanaoan senator said foreign investors are interested in upgrading existing power plants and build new generators, but there is no clear roadmap to off-takers, some of whom have taken a wait-and-see attitude.

He said the DOE should review its policies, simplify its business permits and licensing system to reduce the voluminous documents and offer fresh incentives to attract more industry players instead of putting stumbling blocks.

Pimentel said under the deregulation law, the national government has to take the lead to ensure enough power supply and strictly regulate the operations of companies that produce, transmit and supply electricity to homes, offices and factories.

He also endorsed proposals to strengthen the "market power" of electric cooperatives by allowing them to pool their resources together to enable them to attain economies of scale and improve production efficiencies.

He said the continuing outages would force business to slow down or close shops, dislocate vital public services, annoy millions of residents who will be forced to live with daily brownouts, and scare away tourists from visiting Mindanao.

Pimentel said the region's chronic power shortages were identified by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) as the "most binding constraints" to Mindanao's economic growth and development.

He said power supply is a major driver to make the rich but underdeveloped region a robust business hub in the near future.

The chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights said Mindanao has been experiencing under generation since 2010, but the DOE failed to create new power sources nor attract industry players for the additional power capacity.

Pimentel said the master plan will serve as the guidepost on how to develop Mindanao's power industry that presently relies mainly on hydropower plants, many of which are already old and lack proper maintenance.

He also proposed the reactivation of the National Power Corporation (Napocor) as standby generator to support private power producers for reserve and emergency power to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

The NGCP operates the country's transmission superhighway.

He said the El Nino phenomenon three years ago during which many areas in Mindanao were hit by eight to 10 hours power interruptions almost daily might yet occur again in case of a long drought.

Pimentel said Mindanao is again bracing up for the worst because the hydropower plants, which account for more than 50 percent of Mindanao's total electricity requirements, would be adversely affected again by the long summer dry spell. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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