MINDANAO POWER

WITHOUT power, Mindanao cannot progress. In fact it may regress from its present prosperity. For who will locate in a place where there is a threat of brownout every summer? Power is critical for development. Electricity is needed for manufacturing and even for ordinary offices and households. Right now the power demand in Mindanao uses us up all the available supply without any reserve. At least 600 megawatts are needed to provide a reserve adequate for the demand. That is not taking into consideration any growth in demand. On the drawing boards, there will be enough generating plants in two years to provide for this deficiency. These are mostly coal plants which hopefully can be converted to liquid gas when this becomes available.

Right now 60% of Mindanao power is provided by the Agus River complex of 700 megawatts and the Polangui 4 with its 200 megawatts. From what I understand, both are well managed by government staff operating the facilities. The present legislation has suspended the privatization of these two generating facilities. A good majority of Mindanaoans are against their privatization for fear of being at the mercy of private operators over whom the general populace would have no control. To privatize these facilities would require bidding and because of their size, only the big boys can bid. This is the fear of the ordinary Mindanaoan who is aware of the situation. Wouldn't it be better to keep these generating facilities in the hands of the government, especially since up to the present, they have been efficiently run? They would prefer to gamble with the efficiency and the fairness of government than the big private generators. It may turn out that either one may be advantageous. But many Mindanaoans would prefer the present operators. In the past, many government operators were notoriously bad. But in this case the government operators have been excellent. Can this continue? Or will a private operator be even better?

One option to solve the problem is to connect Mindanao to Leyte. Thus Mindanao would be connected to the national grid. This will entail higher generation rates but that is much better than having brownouts. Another possible suggestion is to create a government corporation, the Mindanao Power Corporation and to operate it as an independent grid. This appeals to Mindanaoans; although it will need a lot of capital to initiate the huge hydro power potentials like the Polangui 5. One problem with a Mindanao Power corporation is whether the Energy Regulatory Board will allow them to charge an updated hydro rate rather than present cost of generation in Polangui and Aguz River. They have low costs since they were constructed many years ago. If they are allowed a flat rate equivalent to or close to the coal rate then they can make up for the other generating costs in Mindanao. This I understand is what prevents the government from holding on to these two facilities. It is costing the national government a pretty penny so they would rather privatize the facilities. Therefore, no big technical problem prevents holding on to these facilities. The inability to get the ERC to raise these hydro rates makes it impossible for the government to compensate for other costs that the NPC has to support.

Mindanao has all the four weather patterns of the country so that where there is drought in one area like the northwest (Cagayan de Oro and Iligan), there is abundant rain in the eastern regions like Surigao and Davao. If mini hydros can be built in various locations on the island, the sources of hydro power can complement each other obviating brown outs. Hydro although initially capital intensive can be the cheapest and most abundant source of power. <emetrio_barcelon@yahoo.com>

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