NGCP warned red alerts may ultimately go before Congress

THE Department of Energy (DoE) said Congress has the power to hold the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) accountable for the power disruptions on the Luzon grid.

“It is Congress that approves the franchise and Congress has various ways of exacting accountability from those who operate as monopolies under the franchise. We will work closely with Congress in making sure that the performance standards are adhered to by those who enjoy the franchise,” Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla said in a briefing on Tuesday.

Red alerts were raised over the Luzon grid on Monday, triggering rotational brownouts that affected over 300,000 customers in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

The Luzon power grid was placed on red alert twice and on yellow alert once on Monday. The supply instability affected the export of power to the Visayas grid, which was placed under yellow alert as a result.

Red alerts are declared when baseload power is insufficient to supply the grid, forcing power to be rationed, leading to rotating brownouts. Yellow alerts are issued when the power supply falls below a designated safety threshold.

Separately on Tuesday, Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) announced an automatic load dropping incident due to the tripping of the Duhat-Hermosa 230-kiloVolt (kV) line.

Meralco said this has affected more than 200,000 customers in portions of Paco, and Sta. Mesa, Manila; Caloocan, Malabon, Batangas, Antipolo, Rizal, San Pedro and Biñan, Laguna, and San Rafael and Pulilan, Bulacan.

Energy Undersecretary Rowena Cristina L. Guevara said that the red and yellow alerts can be traced to the tripping of transmission lines.

She noted that only two power plants went on forced outage — units 1 and 2 of Masinloc. The other power plants’ outages were actually scheduled.

“At 1 p.m. (Monday), the Masinloc-Bolo 230-kV transmission line of NGCP tripped. This was the main cause why the two units of Masinloc Power plant bogged down, triggering a yellow and red alert until mid-afternoon,” Ms. Guevara added.

In a statement, Sherwin T. Gatchalian, vice-chairman of the Senate’s energy committee, said the NGCP should be held accountable for the line tripping that resulted in the outage of the Masinloc coal-fired plants.

“There can be no valid excuse for NGCP for its failure to conduct a comprehensive audit of its facilities given that system disturbances have already led to brownouts in Panay and Negros Islands just a month ago,” Mr. Gatchalian said.

Mr. Lotilla said that a financial audit has been conducted by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), which will be followed by a “performance audit.”

“The next step for us is to use this audit report as a basis… What we want to do is to (find) the weak links, the problems in the transmission system and what we can do to address these problems,” Mr. Lotilla said.

He said a regulatory performance audit will be conducted by the ERC, while a contract performance review will be conducted by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. and National Transmission Corp.

“There have been problems in the past and I look forward to everybody’s cooperation so that this time we will be able to conduct it fully knowing that it is the country’s interest,” Mr. Lotilla said.

Privately owned NGCP was asked to comment but had yet to reply at the deadline.

Ms. Guevara also cited the delay in constructing various transmission lines as the cause of the tight power supply.

She said the San Jose-Hermosa transmission line was supposed to be completed in December, later delayed to July. She said this transmission line could have added about 600 megawatts (MW) of power.

Ms. Guevara also said that if the NGCP had completed the Mindanao-Visayas Interconnection Project (MVIP) earlier, then Mindanao could have supported the power needs of other grids as only 70% of its supply is used.

“The Visayas (is experiencing) yellow alerts. If the MVIP had been (at full capacity) then Mindanao could have assisted,” she said.

The NGCP has started to energize the MVIP with an initial load of 22.5 MW. It will have a transfer capacity of 450 MW once fully completed.

Meanwhile, the DoE said the Luzon grid is expected to enjoy stable supply by June, following the resumption of operations at the Ilijan natural gas-fired power plant on May 26.

However, the DoE clarified that Ilijan will not immediately operate at its full capacity of 1,200 MW. Ilijan had a natural gas contract with the Malampaya gas field that expired in June 2022. The plant’s output is deemed critical if the Luzon grid is to be adequately supplied during the dry season.

The DoE did not give assurances that similar power alerts and power interruptions experienced on Monday will not recur.

On Monday, the Luzon power grid’s peak demand hit 12,418 MW, the highest so far for this year. The DoE expects Luzon’s peak demand to peak at 13,125 MW this month. — Ashley Erika O. Jose