Philippines urges power users to cut back as shortfall looms

Philippines urges power users to cut back as shortfall looms
President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino.

MANILA - The Philippines on Thursday urged homes, commercial and industrial enterprises and state agencies to immediately cut electricity consumption, as a looming power shortfall in 2015 promises to be bigger than expected.

The Southeast Asian nation faces a shortfall of at least 900 MW next year for the main island of Luzon, home to its manufacturing and booming call centre industries, as well as more than half its population of 100 million people.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla painted a dim outlook for Luzon's power supply at a Senate energy panel hearing on a request by President Benigno Aquino for emergency powers from Congress to tackle the shortage.

"We need an additional 900 MW or even more," Petilla said, adding a bigger shortfall meant rolling brownouts could last longer than the initial forecast of 2 to 3 hours if no new supply comes in by March.

"We are begging indulgence from everyone, if they could do something good for the country."

Last month, Aquino said Luzon needed 600 MW of new power supply before next March to avert a shortfall. He wants a joint resolution by Congress to let his government enter into power supply contracts for the first time since the industry was privatised in 2001, to avert rolling brownouts.

Aquino wants special powers for the government to directly finance new generation capacity, giving it a broader role again in the electricity market.

However, government involvement in the industry is opposed by some advocacy and business groups with memories of a surge in power prices in the 1990s when former President Fidel Ramos fought a power crisis by fast-tracking several expensive projects.

Petilla said a bigger power deficiency was foreseen from possible delays in power generation projects originally expected to be onstream before the critical period from March to May.

In a newspaper circular on Thursday, the Department of Energy sought the support of all power consumers for energy conservation measures to reduce demand.

Vital facilities, from hospitals to airports, are exempt from the energy conservation moves. Petilla said the DOE would frame a system of incentives and penalties to ensure compliance.

At the Senate hearing, Petilla vowed to convince more business establishments to sign up for a programme that lets big consumers, such as mall operators and cement industries, run their own generation sets to ease demand from the grid.

They could sell excess capacity to the grid.

As of Thursday, Petilla said the government could expect additional capacity of about 450 MW to be available before March, including that from scheme participants.

"I'm hoping to get an additional 171 MW from potential ILP participants," he said, referring to the Interruptible Load Programme, as the scheme is known.

"With or without emergency powers, we are actually working on ILPs."

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