DOE faces House probe on summer’s plant shutdowns

By Myrna M. Velasco – March 28, 2017, 10:00 PM

from Manila Bulletin

The House of Representatives is set to drag the Department of Energy (DOE) into another round of investigation on why it has not been able to efficiently evade the massive maintenance shutdown of power plants during summer months when demand would typically peak and supply could run tight.

In a resolution filed by Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate, the energy department will be quizzed on the circumstances following reported maintenance downtime of at least 20 power generation facilities throughout summer’s duration – lasting until June.

Based on the outlook drawn up by system operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), reserves would run low particularly on the months of April and May. And what has been missing in the outlook and even in the planning pronouncements of the DOE had been the “forced outages” factor in power plants – considering that many fleets are aging; as well as the capacity de-rating of some generating assets like the hydro facilities.

The NGCP as system operator has the information crux on the scheduling of power plants’ maintenance and will correspondingly report such to the DOE for proper coordination.

Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella apprised the public in his media interviews that participating interruptible load program (ILP) and the Malaya thermal plant will be called upon for dispatch if supply would breach decent reserve level.

These contingencies, however, will trigger increases in power rates to be billed to consumers – circumstances that could have been avoided if power plant shutdowns are not scheduled at peak demand months and of overlapping extent.

Zarate pointed out that the DOE “seems not learning or heeding the lessons of the past” – that such circumstances in the power system could cut both ways for consumers – in the form of wobbly supply and/or increases in electricity bills.

The lawmaker noted that even if the pass-on of cost impacts would be staggered, that just entails delaying the bad news for Filipino consumers.

“These shutdowns are too numerous and too long and they will definitely cause a spike in power rates if we do nothing about it,” he stressed.

Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi has repeatedly told reporters in the past that to avoid simultaneous shutdowns of power plants, he will opt “for publication of the schedules.” Last year, it was the May elections that had been used as justification for massive maintenance shutdowns around July-August that resulted in rolling brownouts. But nothing of this sort is happening this year.

Even with the concerns being raised by industry players, however, the DOE is less perturbed with the developments with Fuentebella guaranteeing to the public that “no power interruptions” will ever distress them even as weather temperatures rise.

“We have sufficient (supply), but what we are looking at also is sufficiency of reserves,” he stressed.