The rotating power outages in the aftermath of Typhoon “Glenda” last month portends an unfavorable power situation in 2015, a crucial year even in the political arena given the presidential election in May 2016. Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla has warned that unless the government took bold steps in the energy sector, a shortage in power supply would extend the rotating outages to 2015.
Luzon is projected to face a supply shortfall of between 400 and 500 megawatts (MW) by summer next year, partly due to the scheduled maintenance of various power plants. And while new power plants are being built, many will not be up and running in 2015. The root of the problem is that the robust economic growth experienced since the Aquino administration took office in 2010 was not matched by additional power capacity.
According to government estimates, for every 1-percent growth in the gross domestic product, electricity consumption increases by 0.6 percent in Luzon, 1 percent in the Visayas, and 0.8 percent in Mindanao. And this problem did not materialize overnight. In June 2012, the then energy secretary, Jose Rene Almendras, already warned of possible power supply shortages in Luzon by 2015 if the proposed 600-MW coal-fired power plant of Redondo Peninsula Energy Inc. (RP Energy) were stalled. At that time, only RP Energy could readily mobilize the construction of a power plant that could be made available by 2015 because the company had secured all the necessary contracts. Today, however, the project remains bound by a restraining order (Writ of Kalikasan) issued by the Supreme Court.
From all indications, the only option left is energy conservation. Last week, the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) appealed to government leaders and company executives to invest in energy-efficiency initiatives and programs that would help avert the power supply shortage in Luzon next year. Henry Schumacher, ECCP vice president for external affairs, said implementing energy conservation alone could easily “save 20 to 30 percent of energy consumption,” which is estimated to be equivalent to the capacity of a new power plant needed to prevent a shortage in 2015.
Schumacher was clear: Everyone must be involved, from the government to the private sector, from industrial zones to the malls, from call centers to individuals. The national and local governments should create a more conducive environment where investment in energy efficiency would be rewarded with incentives and wastage would be punished. Schumacher also said that some banks were willing to finance energy-efficiency projects, and a number of the so-called energy-efficiency vendors—from lighting to insulation to air-conditioning—were also willing to be paid through the energy saved from the investments made in their systems and equipment.
Former energy undersecretary Jose Layug Jr. aired an earlier suggestion for the government to stagger work hours in public offices and consider a four-day work week. If the government is feeling bolder, he said, it might even consider implementing daylight saving time (DST), last used during President Cory Aquino’s administration. Under DST, the clock is advanced by an hour to take advantage of longer daylight hours during the summer months. This will minimize the public’s electricity consumption during the critical months when demand peaks.
Another suggestion came from Petilla himself: Give President Aquino “emergency powers,” because power generators can no longer provide an assurance of additional capacities between now and the early part of 2016. He said a state of national emergency should be declared following the dwindling power supply; otherwise, power outages in 2015 would be inevitable.
Does the President need emergency powers to compel everyone to conserve energy? First, he has to accept the fact that no new power plant can be built in such a short period, and that addressing the demand side—through energy conservation—is the only option left. He has to do this, or risk the trouncing of his Liberal-Party-led coalition in May 2016. Sen. Serge Osmeña III has warned that the thin power reserves could be blamed on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo only until the end of this year, and that in 2015, it would be deemed Mr. Aquino’s fault because he should have done something in 2010 to address the power supply situation five years down the road.
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