Energy consumer advocacy group Power for People Coalition (P4P) has expressed concern about the looming energy crisis in the remote areas of the country.
In a statement, P4P warned over the weekend that the National Power Corp. (Napocor)'s decision to cut electricity service to areas being served by the Small Power Utilities Group (SPUG) could be an indicator of what the Philippines can expect this year due to the energy grid's reliance on fossil fuels.
The National Electrification Administration (NEA) has said that Napocor would reduce services to SPUG areas starting Feb. 1 due to fuel supply shortage and the delay in universal cost for missionary electrification subsidy payment.
SPUG supplies electricity to remote communities as mandated by Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act through small diesel power plants.
Gerry Arances, P4P convenor, said the small communities served by the diesel power plants of Napocor would have greatly benefited instead from indigenous renewable energy sources, both in terms of steady supply and affordability of energy.
Arances said the communities served by Napocor are not connected to the main grid and have relatively lower energy requirements.
He said they are also not in a financial position to pay for high-priced electricity from diesel.
'We are running out of diesel and we can't just keep using the people's money to buy more,' Arances said.
'Instead of spending the people's money to continue to subsidize diesel purchases, the Department of Energy could have used these resources to build microgrids that would spare the residents from the worst effects of the power crisis,' he said.
Arances expressed concern that the same thing could soon happen to the national grid.
'Coal and natural gas prices continue to rise. We cannot be trapped in chasing electricity with more money to be paid by consumers,' he said.
'Ultimately, consumers would balk and stop paying or there will be simply no fuel to burn. Let's break out of the trap and fast-track renewable energy development,' Arances said.
Napocor said the continued increase in the average price of diesel has led to the depletion of its funds for fuel.
The Energy Regulatory Commission, for its part, has assured the public that it would expedite the review of Napocor's relevant petitions following due process and proceedings, in addition to looking for alternative solutions to solve the present crisis in missionary areas, while ensuring that reasonable prices and quality service would be provided.
Meanwhile, Sen. Win Gatchalian has also called on the DOE to ensure that the expected entry of additional power supply would be realized within the first half to prevent power interruptions during the summer months.
'While the energy department has already flagged possible 12 yellow alerts between March and November this year, it needs to ensure that the expected additional supply is attained before demand peaks during the summer months,' Gatchalian said.
The lawmaker also urged the DOE to ensure that no maintenance shutdown of existing power plants would occur during the peak months to prevent any red alert status which causes rotational brownouts.
In addition, Gatchalian asked the government to step up its energy conservation campaign by comprehensively implementing Republic Act 11285, also known as the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act.
The law, which Gatchalian co-authored and sponsored in the Senate, provides for the implementation of a Government Energy Management Program (GEMP) aimed at reducing the government's monthly consumption of electricity and fuel use of government vehicles.
Also covered in the GEMP are government-owned and controlled corporations, government financial institutions, state universities and colleges, and local government units.
The DOE has been pushing for demand-side management programs for various sector to help ease the expected tightness of supply in the summer months.
These programs are focused on the utilization of efficient equipment and appliances, as well as the promotion and implementation of policies and programs that best fit each industry.
The agency had expressed concern about supply in the upcoming summer months, when thin power reserves will be met with higher demand.
Based on the DOE's latest 2023 outlook, which factors in the projected forced outage ranging from 500 to 600 megawatts (MW) for the entire year along with the operation of existing and committed power plants, the Luzon grid may encounter yellow alerts possibly for several weeks, including the entire month of May.
These yellow alerts, however, could turn into red alerts should there be a sudden breakdown or outage of a major power plant with capacity of anywhere between 100 to 200 MW.
A yellow alert is raised when there are not enough reserves to cover the largest running generating unit at the time, but does not necessarily lead to power outages.
Red alert, on the other hand, is placed over the grid when the supply to demand balance further worsens, which can lead to rotating power interruptions.