PGTW: Hello darkness, our old friend

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 24 July 2014, Thursday

Hello darkness, our old friend

Typhoon Glenda (Rammasun) knocked out 12 power plants that account for 55 percent of Luzon’s power capacity last July 16, and a week later, power has not been fully restored.

This is the first time, says the Department of Energy, that this much damage has been caused to capacity; they asked for the understanding of consumers as they and the electricity distributors such as Meralco try their best to make repairs.

For the moment, three- to four-hour rotating brownouts in Metro Manila attempt to allocate existing capacity.

Rotating brownouts of three to four hours (in some areas even longer) were being enforced in Metro Manila even before the advent of typhoon Glenda (Rammasun). On July 12, Luzon was placed on red alert as several power plants went offline, including Ilijan in Batangas, Calaca in Batangas, and Masinloc Unit 1 in Zambales.

It’s bad enough that Mindanao has been experiencing this power shortage for years, which retards development in the region; for the metro to be similarly afflicted is not only a disappointment, it is an embarrassment.

It’s only common sense that the country cannot sustain the economic vibrancy touted by the current administration among key sectors such as business process outsourcing and tourism if energy infrastructure is inadequate, incomplete, and unreliable.

The same reasons reduce the chances of potentially high-growth sectors such as manufacturing taking off to low, if not non-existent.

Is there a lack of power plants in Luzon?

According to the Department of Energy website under “2013 List of Existing Plants in Luzon”, the area has eight coal plants, 12 oil-based (nine diesel, one oil-thermal, two gas turbine), three natural gas, six geothermal, 12 large hydroelectric, nine small hydroelectric, one wind, and five biomass, for a total of 56 plants.

Several were commissioned after 2001, after the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) was passed: Asia Pacific Energy Coal in Mabalacat (2006), Mariveles Coal (2013), CIP II in Bacnotan (Jan 2013), Ilijan and San Lorenzo in Batangas (2002), Maibarara in Batangas (Feb 2014), San Roque in Pangasinan (2003), and Casecnan in Nueva Ecija (2002). Thema Marine, Inc. in Navotas is for commissioning in Nov. 2014.

The total installed capacity is 12,789.8 megawatts, with 11,518.7 “dependable” MW. Whatever these figures signify, the reality is that demand seems to outstrip supply.

What hits consumers the most, aside from the instability of the power supply, is the rising cost of electricity. The Epira Law sought to make the energy market more competitive by privatizing state power generation and transmission assets in an effort to reduce electricity prices. The opposite has happened – who can forget the jolting generation rate increase Meralco sought to impose last December?

High costs and brownouts are nothing new to Filipinos – they were a fact of life during the Cory years. What is unbelievable is that decades later, power supply is still a problem. Given the regularity of the arrival of monsoons, and the heightened fury of storms in this day and age of climate change, something should have been done long ago to improve and stabilize our energy infrastructure.

It’s time to revisit the Epira Law, as well as the ways that power generators and distributors do business. Unless the cost of electricity is reduced, the sustainability of economic growth is questionable.

* * * * *

The University of Santo Tomas Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (UST CCWLS), in cooperation with the UST Varsitarian, held a conversation with five Filipino-American writers yesterday.

The writers who read from their published works or works-in-progress were Amalia Bueno, Fidelito Cortes, M. Evelina Galang, and Lara Stapleton. R. Zamora Linmark served as facilitator.

At the same event, the latest issue of Tomás, the official literary journal of the UST CCWLS, was launched. This issue’s (Vol. 2, Issue No. 3) editor is Ralph Semino Galán, UST CCWLS Senior Resident Fellow and de facto Deputy Director; managing editor is UST Resident Fellow Chuckberry Pascual. Tomás Editor-in-Chief is UST CCWLS Director Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo.

One of my creative non-fiction works is included in this issue of Tomas, the first to feature works from writers who are not students nor alumni of UST.


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