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Brownouts greet NP slate in Surigao

Rotating brownouts of five to eight hours greeted the Nacionalista Party Tuesday as it kicked off here its presidential campaign in Mindanao, but standard-bearer Manuel Villar and his running mate Loren Legarda were quick to oppose the grant of any emergency powers to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to deal with the power crisis.

At a press conference, Villar and Legarda pointed out that Ms Arroyo had sufficient powers under the Electric Power Reform Industry Act (EPIRA) and the Renewable Energy Act to respond to the power problem, which was exacerbated by the El Niño phenomenon.

“No need for emergency powers for the President. Existing laws are enough. She should maximize the implementation of Renewable Energy Act,” said Legarda.

The senator, the United Nation's champion on climate change adaptation, even dissuaded the outgoing administration from temporarily taking over the operations of the entire power sector.

“What she must do is to stay out of power operation. It should really be undertaken by the private-sector,” said Legarda.

“The rotating brownouts is a manifestation of government inefficiency in running the power sector,” said Legarda, pointing out that in the past 10 years, government had not invested in a single power plant in Mindanao, leaving the island to get power from the antiquated Agus Plant at Maria Cristina in Lanao del Norte.

Surigao del Norte, she said, had a rich power source in Mainit Lake, which is environment-friendly which an administration under Villar can tap and explore.

The VP candidate called on Ms Arroyo to implement to the letter the Renewable Energy Act, which calls for development of alternative sources of energy.

Villar reiterated his opposition to proposals to give Ms Arroyo emergency powers to address the energy crisis in Mindanao.

To solve the problem, Villar supported Legarda's position that what was needed was efficient management and full implementation of laws related to energy.

From Surigao City, the NP slate flew to Butuan City in Agusan del Norte, which was also affected by the rotating brownouts.

The Agusal del Norte Electric Cooperative (Aneco) operations maintenance division's chief, Engr. Pedrito Capilitan, told reporters that the Arroyo administration, through the energy department, had been warned as early as 2005 of rotating brownouts and massive power failure in 2010 unless new power plants were built.

Since then, not a single plant was built in Mindanao, said Capilitan in an ambush interview at his office in Butuan City, echoing the earlier pronouncement of Legarda.

Vote-rich Mindanao, serviced by the Mindanao power grid, has an 820 megawatts (MW) actual capacity, and a peak demand of 1,210 MW.

But due to the failure of the main power source—the Ma. Cristina hydroelectric power plant—to produce enough power, the whole island has a daily deficiency of 390 MW, said Capilitan, reading from an official statement released by the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines.

The hydroelectric plant only produces 10 percent of the power requirement of Mindanao, he said.

From a peak power demand of 45-48 MW in Agusan, Aneco is only supplied with 20 MW a day, less than half of the normal consumption of its 100,000 electric consumers in the whole of the Caraga region.

Caraga is composed of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.

The rotating brownouts started three weeks ago, paralyzing the plywood manufacturing industry in the province and operations of commercial establishments.

Asked how long the brownouts would last, he said:

“Only they (energy officials) could say how long. I don't know how long this will last.”

He refused to comment when asked if the rotating brownouts could last beyond the May 10 polls.

Legarda said that power outages could affect the conduct of elections.

A Napocor statement said there had been an 80-percent reduction in the capabilities of the National Power Corp. (Napocor) Agus hydroelectric power plants. Pulangi plant, also owned by Napocor, experienced 90 percent in capabilities.

Water elevation at Lake Lanao as of Tuesday was 699.08 meters, which was below the critical level of 699.15 meters.

Villar vowed to focus on the three major problems confronting Mindanao, especially in Caraga, which is among the poorest areas of the Philippines.

Villar identified the three major problems of the region—power crisis, peace and order, and poverty. “Those are the three immediate problems that must be addressed by the national government,” he said.

Villar said poverty, the major focus of his advocacy, was considered to be worst in the Caraga region, which also suffers from inadequate infrastructure, agriculture, education and tourism.

If elected president, his administration is committed to do what is necessary to enable the region to catch up with the national human development index, Villar told reporters.

He said Region 13 had much potential to enable the region to at least reach the level of the national average.

“But of course, it will need the total support of the national government,” he said.

“So we have to tap all sources, including hydroelectric. We have to first assess how big the problem is because there might still be other ways,” he said.

In developing Mindanao, the NP presidential candidate said the government must be prepared for higher demand for power.

“This is capacity versus demand, meaning, if consumption will increase, the lack of power will be magnified,” he said. (inquirer.net)

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