Senators called on the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) to step up and proactively address the country’s impending power shortage.

“Taon-taon na lang problema ang blackouts at kakulangan ng suplay. Taon-taon na rin pinananawagan sa DOE at NGCP na kumilos sila pero bakit parang wala pa ring nangyayari? Both of these agencies should step up and put an end to this energy crisis once and for all,” Deputy Minority Leader Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement Wednesday.

Hontiveros stated that the two government energy bodies should present a transparent power and pricing prognosis for the coming days and months in the aftermath of the unanticipated power outages across Luzon and the Visayas caused by NGCP’s Bolo-Masinloc transmission lines tripping. 

The outage not only impacted power distribution in Luzon, but it also diminished exports to the Visayas, which had been battling power shortages for the previous week. To deal with the problem, the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) had to resort to manual load dropping, which caused momentary power outages in a number of areas. Furthermore, trading in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) was halted.

Hontiveros claims that the Senate was “taken for a ride” by energy governing bodies, specifically Energy Sec. Rafael Lotilla, who stated that the country’s electrical supply will be adequate and reliable throughout the year.

Hontiveros also warned that the looming El Niño power shortfall, along with the ensuing deficit outputs at the Malampaya and hydroelectric projects, would have a negative influence on prices.

“Magkakambal ang problema sa suplay ng kuryente at taas-singil. Ang nakakadismaya ay dalawa lang ang pagpipilian ng konsyumers – blackouts o dagdag na singil. The consumers should not be forced to choose between two unpleasant alternatives. Isa lang ang dapat ibigay sa atin gaya ng ipinangako — an affordable and reliable supply of electricity,” Hontiveros said.

The Senator said she is worried that the escalating power crisis would be used to lend credence to the “dubious argument” that nuclear power is the only possible solution to energy supply issues.

She argued that the government should prioritize the rapid development and deployment of distributed renewable energy systems, which offer greater variability, flexibility, sustainability, and the possibility for energy democracy to flourish in local communities instead of incorporating into the current power mix nuclear power that can’t even be regulated properly.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Grace Poe also called for long-term solutions to the power crisis in Western Visayas. 

“These are no longer just an inconvenience. They are a major problem, affecting the economy and endangering the wellbeing of our people. The frequency of these blackouts is alarming, and it is on the DOE and the NGCP to get their act straight and find long-term solutions already,” Zubiri said.

Poe further asked for an inquiry into the power outages that have plagued Panay Island for years in order to determine solutions that would ensure constant power to users.

“Recurring power interruptions and massive blackouts should not be a way of life. Concerned agencies must get a handle on the problem to end the intolerable suffering of the residents,” Poe added. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Raffy Tulfo expressed strong disapproval of the increase in generation charges by energy generation companies (gencos), regardless of the decrease in the price of coal in the global price index.

Tulfo stated that while global coal prices have been falling, generation company charges in the Philippines remain high, allowing huge gencos supplying energy in the country to earn hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pesos on a daily basis.

He added that the DOE has vowed to implement required measures on noncompliant gencos, including requiring them to provide their customers with information.

“We will get back to ERC and DOE through a Senate public [hearing] to finally put a stop to the abuse of gencos to Filipino consumers,” Tulfo said. Joshua Manalo