20 May 2007

A separate Bikol grid?

WHAT Bikolano politicians failed to do over all these years, Typhoons Milenyo and Reming finally made real.

Lost in the heat of the ongoing election canvassing is this Inquirer story about Napocor's intention to set up dedicated power plants in the Bicol region. This statement by Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla deserves a closer look:

"Napocor is ready to do islanding operations in Bicol. We're working with Chevron in (the Tiwi geothermal plant) to ensure that the facilities there will not be as easily damaged by typhoons as in the past. It's very important for us to work on these things," he said.
Are "islanding operations" the same as having a separate Bicol grid? If it is, has Napocor abandoned the one-grid-one-price policy that the Ramos administration used to stymie earlier efforts to set up an independent Bicol grid separate from the rest of Luzon? I'm not sure; maybe Mamutong can give us the lowdown.

What are the upsides? The story mentioned having a dedicated power source for the area "would make Bicol less prone to transmission-related power outages during the typhoon season."

To that, I will also add improved utilization of the Tiwi geothermal resources. This concern was raised by newly reelected Tiwi Mayor Jaime "Ami" Villanueva during our Synergeia LCE retreat: the EPIRA law has effectively sidelined the Tiwi geothermal outputs, owing to the preference being given to independent power producers (IPPs) with whom the national government and the power retailers have long-term purchase agreements. As a result, Tiwi LGU's revenue from the geothermal facilities it is hosting have significantly gone down.

With the effective separation of Bicol from the Luzon grid, relatively cheap geothermal power from Tiwi and Bac-Man plants will mainly, if not wholly, supply mainland Bicol's needs. Of course, another lingering problem are the unacceptably high system losses by electric cooperatives in the region, which this other Inquirer story highlighted; but that is a separate issue that must be dealt with at the distribution level.

What I am afraid of is their effective monopoly position, which begs the question: Will a deregulated electric power industry made possible by the EPIRA law allow end-users to finally benefit from this indigenous energy resource?