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The good and bad news of the power problem

/ 12:07 AM July 23, 2014

Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla provided a comprehensive and clear briefing on the energy situation in the Philippines at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. The good news: As many as 21 new generating plants are in various stages of startup and completion all over the country. The bad news: They won’t be completed in time to stave off a power shortage next year.

It takes from four to five years to build a generating plant. New power plants should have been started during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to prevent shortages today. GMA forgot about it. Now the P-Noy administration is blaming her for today’s power outages. The power plants now being built will benefit the next administration.

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The energy secretary was asked: When will power be restored in the whole of Luzon and the rest of the Philippines?

“I cannot answer that accurately,” he replied. “It depends on the damage done by the typhoon (‘Glenda’) to the power lines. Each line has to be restored to perfect condition before it can be put on line to avoid accidents in homes.

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“If your neighbor has electricity but you have none, then the problem may be in your home’s electric circuit. Hire a licensed electrician to inspect the whole circuitry and repair damaged wires.”

Petilla sought the public’s understanding and forgiveness for the slow return of electricity in places hit by Glenda. The damage to the power infrastructure was so great, he said, that it would take some time to restore power service completely.

At least 1,500 electric poles were downed by Glenda, he said, another 1,000 of power lines through which electricity from the generating plants flow to the power grid that supplies power to the distribution lines. It will take time to replace all of them, he said, but crews are working 24/7 to restore power to every household. Too much haste will pose danger to the public.

Petilla was asked: Would it be advisable to install the power lines underground so that they are not damaged by strong winds and falling trees?

Yes, that is possible, he answered, “but it would cost money. And who would pay for that eventually in the form of higher electric rates? Are you willing to pay higher power rates?”

Then there is the problem of the frequent floods, he continued. Can the underground power lines be made absolutely waterproof? Buried lines also make the job of maintaining and repairing them difficult and time-consuming.

The energy secretary commented on the usual reaction of consumers to the power situation: “When there is no electricity, the homeowner will insist, Give us electricity no matter how much it costs! When he gets the electricity and then gets the bill, he will scream, Why so much!?”

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Question to Petilla: How can other countries have much lower power rates? (The Philippines has one of the highest rates in the world, the second highest in Asia.)

Answer: Simple, their governments subsidize their power.

Question: Why can’t we do the same thing here?

Answer: We can, but instead of the poor being benefited, they would be put at a disadvantage. Why? Subsidizing electricity means the government would have to get the money from somewhere else. It would get money from other agencies, such as the Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and others. Yes, homeowners would pay less in electricity bills but would have to forego some benefits provided by the DepEd, DOH, DSWD, etc. Do we want that?

Also, the biggest beneficiary would be the rich, not the poor. Because everybody would be paying the same rates for power, the rich, who use much more electricity, would save more than the poor, who use less. Thus, the poor would be subsidizing the rich with their tax money.

Question: What is the prospect for sufficient power in the coming years?

Answer: There is sufficient power, but the reserve is so thin that rotational brownouts cannot be avoided when a power plant has to stop generating for a variety of reasons—force majeure such as typhoons, floods, and earthquakes, or for maintenance work. There is not enough reserve power to make up for the shortage. But after 2015, the supply will improve as more power plants come on line.

Question: What about the mothballed nuclear power plant in Bataan, can’t we use it?

Answer: Yes, we can, but will the people of Bataan and the environmental activists accept it? Do you want a nuclear power plant to be your neighbor?

* * *

For fans of singer Margaux Salcedo, her next gig at the Tap Room of the Manila Hotel is on July 30, a Wednesday. Margaux’s voice, singing style, and old love songs will banish the bad weather blues away. The show starts at 9 p.m.

And if you are caught in heavy traffic, banish the irritation and relax over the cool, soothing voice of Romulo Macalintal on the car radio. Macalintal reads love poems and plays love songs over dwBR, 104.3 FM at 8-9 p.m., with a replay at 10 p.m. the next night.

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TAGS: brownouts, Electricity, Energy, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, nation, news, power crisis, power industry
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