Summer blackouts looming

by Iris Gonzales, 20 February 2015
from Philippine Star

File photo

MANILA, Philippines – The country’s aging power plants are predicted to bog down this summer, resulting in rotating blackouts, as a higher demand for power during the hot months push these old facilities to their limits.

According to latest data from the Department of Energy (DOE), an average of 631 megawatts to as high as 858 MW are expected to disappear from the Luzon grid from March to June 2015 as a result of forced outages of power plants.

Meanwhile, a supposedly flawed contract for the operation and maintenance of the Malaya thermal power plant in Rizal province may aggravate the already precarious power supply in Luzon this summer, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares warned yesterday.

Colmenares said he has received reports the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) has awarded a one-year contract to operate Malaya to the Korean firm STX Marine Service Co., Ltd., “even though they have no track record in handling a power operation and maintenance.”

The DOE said an average of 631 MW in capacity would not be available in March as a result of forced outages, while an average of 712 MW would not be available in April. This is predicted to go down to an average of 642 MW in May and rise again to an average of 858 MW in June.

The department based its estimates from the actual 2014 forced outages, which hit a maximum of 1,346 MW in March; 1,251 MW in April; 1,520 MW in May and 1,624 MW in June.

Because of the looming power shortage in summer, President Aquino has asked Congress for special powers so he may tap additional capacity. The House of Representatives has already passed its version of a joint resolution that would give the President such powers, but the Senate has yet to approve its counterpart measure.

The DOE and the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) are working together to draw in as much additional capacity as possible through the Interruptible Load Program (ILP), where big power users would be asked to use their own facilities and generators to ease demand from the grid.

The electricity not taken from the grid would then be utilized for households and other offices, sparing them from rotating blackouts.

To date, Meralco has drawn in at least 617 MW in ILP capacity from 323 participants.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla said the power supply shortage could result in two-hour rotating blackouts within a seven-hour period per day.

“There’s really a shortage and the highest probability of this happening is in March,” Petilla said in a television interview.

The department expects additional capacity to come in, which include the uprating of the Limay diesel plant in Bataan with additional 36 MW, as well as the uprating of the Bauang diesel plant with an additional 20 MW, which will both be operational by early March.

There is also the planned interconnection of the Caliraya-Botocon line so that the hydropower plant could bring in an additional 20 MW by end February.

Other plants expected to come online include the 100-MW Avion, owned by First Gen, which is expected to be completed on April 15.

The Luzon grid will need 9,011 MW this year, higher than last year’s 8,717 MW, due to higher demand.

Flawed contract?

Colmenares said the award of contract to the Korean firm “is very critical because the overhaul of Malaya 1 is expected to back up power in the Luzon grid.”

He said the firm also won a separate bidding for the maintenance or overhaul of the turbine of one of the Malaya plants.

Other bidders for the contracts were the British Weir Engineering Services Ltd. and a Chinese company.

He said only Weir Engineering is experienced in turbine overhauling, particularly Siemens HP barrel-type turbines used in Malaya.

After post-evaluation of bids, PSALM awarded the contract to STX, even though the company was not able to provide its track record on overhauling such turbines, he said.

Being incapable of such work, STX sub-contracted the project IWHA, another Korean firm with, again, no experience in turbine overhauling.

Because of IWHA’s inexperience on HP Barrel Siemens Turbine, some parts like coupling bolts were damaged, Colmenares said.

STX again gave the subcontract to another Korean firm, SHILOH, which was formed in the Philippines to supply local manpower and tools.

Because of the series of subcontracting failures, Colmenares said the overhauling of the turbine is delayed and is not expected to be completed by summer this year.

“The fact that the subcontractor company subcontracted the job several times only shows that they are incapable of doing the job,” he said.

“This is very dangerous because it would imperil the power supply of Luzon and, in essence, PSALM is sabotaging our country by this deal. If brownouts take place, the Department of Energy and PSALM must be held accountable for their failure to revive Malaya which could have provided more than 600 MW to our power supply.” – With Paolo Romero

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