Legarda proposes solutions to Mindanao Power Crisis

April 1, 2013

Reelectionist Senator Loren Legarda today said the need for a clear framework in managing Lake Lanao and its watershed resources becomes more imperative and urgent with the continued brownouts being experienced in Mindanao.

Legarda said the worsening deforestation of watersheds, including those located in Lake Lanao, and the siltation of river systems are among the reasons the power supply in the island has become erratic.

She said the continued deterioration of Lake Lanao has affected the supply of water from the lake for six of Mindanao’s existing hydroelectric power plants, including Agus, which are collectively responsible for 70 percent of the island’s energy needs.

Legarda has long anticipated the power shortfall in Mindanao, which prompted her to file Senate Bill 3097, a bill establishing an effective policy and regulatory administration over Lake Lanao through the proposed Lake Lanao Development Authority.

According to Legarda, the proposed authority would ensure the promotion and development of Lake Lanao in a sustainable manner.

“The Lake Lanao Development Authority shall have the exclusive jurisdiction to issue Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECCs)/ Certificate of Non-Coverage (CNCs) and grant permits for any projects or activities in or affecting the Lake Lanao Area. The proposed measure also aims to adopt the integrated water resources management to promote sustainable development in the same area,” she explained.

Aside from the creation of the Lake Lanao Development Authority, the Senator said the Mindanao power situation is in dire need of long-term and sustainable solution.

The power demand in Mindanao peaks at 1,484 megawatts, but existing power plants can supply only 1,181 megawatts, resulting in a deficit of 300 megawatts. This has resulted to rotating brownouts in areas that do not have embedded power generation capacity. Unless new facilities are made available, the power situation in Mindanao will remain problematic.

The government no longer controls much of Mindanao’s power facilities. These have been privatized.

Legarda said there are two issues therefore that face our Mindanao consumers with respect to the power situation in Mindanao – one is the issue of supply, and the other is the issue of cost. As most of the power facilities are now in the hands of the private sector, and therefore, power provision is no longer subsidized by the government, the cost of power can only go up.

“Right now, what Mindanao needs is an immediate solution that can address the supply side of the issue,” she said.

Legarda said the acquisition by the government of modular generator sets to offset the supply deficit is a short-term solution. “We have to look at how we can best maximize the capacities of the government’s remaining assets in Mindanao, including the Agus and Pulangi hydropower facilities. We need to stop the intentional decay of these facilities only for government to sell them at a ‘give-away’ rate to the private sector.”

She said, “While we recognize the need for baseload power generation capacity in Mindanao, we have to balance this with the need to generate clean and renewable energy. The cost of renewable energy, particularly geothermal, hydropower, and biomass is very competitive. Mindanao has an agriculture-intensive economy. We need to be able to harness the agricultural wastes of Mindanao to fuel biomass facilities. The off-grid communities of Mindanao should benefit from solar energy whose cost has significantly gone down over the past years. In 2011, the cost of solar panels went down by as much as 50%. Mindanao hosts Mt. Apo, a geothermal energy resource. Mindanao’s indigenous energy resources need to be developed to address its growing power needs.”

The Senator said the Renewable Energy Law, which she had co-sponsored and co-authored, should be fully implemented. “It is no longer true that all forms of renewable energy are expensive. Hydropower, geothermal, and biomass are now competitive with the cost of conventional energy sources. They are undoubtedly cheaper than the diesel-fired power facilities and the power barges that the government will be mobilizing in the interim to address the power woes of Mindanao. It is time that the government prioritize renewable energy development as well in our country.”

Finally, Legarda said, government needs to conduct sustained efforts in involving the public in demand-side management efforts. “We need to switch behavioral patterns of consumers on energy use. We need to encourage the public to use energy efficient lighting systems and appliances; promote energy conservation; changing the time of use of electricity at home so that we help lessen the peak demand during the day; among others. Those who generate electricity for their own use should also be given incentives to voluntarily contribute their excess capacities to the supply stream.”