ERC probes ‘leak reports’ on 9 power plants

by Myrna Velasco – August 19, 2016

from Manila Bulletin

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) is re-validating submitted reports of power plants on their reported ‘boiler tube leak incidents’ and other technical glitches that partly caused rotating brownouts in Luzon in the past two weeks.

In a hearing by the Senate committee on energy, ERC Chairman Jose Vicente B. Salazar stipulated that they have been pursuing technical re-validation process on the Bacon-Manito 1 geothermal plant; Calaca unit 2 coal-fired plant; GNPower unit 1 coal plant; Limay thermal facility; Makiling-Banahaw geothermal plant; Malaya unit 2 thermal facility; Pagbilao unit 2; South Luzon Thermal Energy Corporation unit 2 coal plant; and the unit 2 of Sual coal-fired power plant.

He said some plants have not immediately submitted ‘reports on their technical malfunctions’ within the required timeframe of 48 hours. Nevertheless, after a second reminder from the ERC, all of them finally complied.

Salazar said the extended work of the Commission is to counter-check the veracity of the reasons provided by the generation companies as to why their power plants had been snagged with forced outages.

The ERC chair noted that capacity loss from plants’ forced outages during the critical stretch of July 26 to August 5 had been reckoned at 2,299.8 megawatts.

Yellow alert conditions in the grid sparked off as early as July 19, but actual power interruptions only happened on two instances – last July 30 (Saturday) and that fateful Friday of August 5.

Beyond physical evaluation of the technical drawbacks at power plants, the industry regulator is also thrown into that more tricky probe if there have been ‘collusive acts’ by the generation companies (GenCos) during those tight supply conditions.

Salazar acknowledged that there have been spikes in spot prices during those ‘yellow’ and ‘red alert’ days in the power system, but it will take deeper scrutiny and analysis if some actions of the industry players had been ‘contrived’.

Some quarters have been pointing out the parallelism of the July-August 2016 events to the simultaneous maintenance shutdowns and forced outages of power plants that also unnerved the industry in 2013.

At that time though, public agitation was more on the P4.00 to P5.00 per kilowatt hour (kWh) drastic hikes in electricity rates being an outcome then of tight supply conditions in the grid.

For this year, the extent of cost impacts may not be of the same magnitude because of the secondary price cap mechanism instituted in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) following the disastrous industry events of 2013.

The ERC though is still setting its sights on probability of abuses that may have been committed by participants in the market, primarily on those instances of deficient grid supply.