Gatchalian wants penalties for tripping power plants

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29) – Heads should roll every time a power plant goes into unplanned shutdown which causes brownouts, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said.

“I really feel that these plants should be penalized. At the end, it's the consumer that bears all the consequences, the disturbances,” Gatchalian told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy Affairs, said rotating brownouts in parts of Luzon has been caused by six power plants reporting forced outages in recent weeks, limiting supply to the Luzon grid amid growing demand for electricity.

These plants supply about 1,800 megawatts to the grid, which the senator said is equal to 15 to 20 percent of the area's needs.

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines implements rotating brownouts during red alert status due to a lack of power reserves.

“Of course, the plants will argue that it’s (forced outage) normal and part of operations, but I really feel the plants can do better. In the past, lahat ng mga planta is all government-owned, binigay sa private sector kasi we felt at that time that they can do better.”

“They should do better because if they are saying that they cannot control these forced outages and we cannot do anything about it, then you’re not better than what the previous set-up is.”

The Senate body staged an inquiry last week into the recent supply problems in the Luzon grid, which triggered yellow and even red alerts that prompted brownouts in Metro Manila and nearby areas.

Gatchalian pointed out that there is available technology to predict problems in a power plant’s operations, which will then help reduce cases of forced outages. Reforms planned by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Energy Regulatory Commission also need to be implemented.

“We need to compel these plants to keep investing in technology, into software that will predict all of these and lower down the occurrences of forced outages,” he added. “The reforms we’re looking at… maglagay ng penalty so that these plants will feel the pain and invest in technology.”

Gatchalian said energy authorities pointed to thin power reserves and forced outages among power plants as the culprit, noting that supply will likely remain scarce.

“The bottomline is we have to brace ourselves for more brownouts in the next few weeks until the rainy season,” the senator added, although noting that authorities assured there will be ample power supply on May 13, election day.

Meanwhile, Gatchalian said the Energy Virtual One Stop Shop law will help fast-track the creation of new power plants, which are needed to keep up with the steadily-rising demand for electricity.

The law, which will reduce the four-year wait to secure a permit to build a new plant, is awaiting the issuance of implementing rules from the DOE. Another proposal pending in the Senate eyes to reduce utility bills by using the Malampaya fund to pay off debts incurred by the defunct National Power Corp., which are currently being passed on to consumers.