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Lawmakers file resos to probe Panay blackout

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Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday filed a resolution seeking an “extensive” inquiry into the recent blackouts in Western Visayas that plunged Panay and Guimaras into darkness for days, and reports that the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) failed to take action to prevent the system-wide power shutdown.

In the House, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Ferdinand Alexander Marcos also filed a resolution also to investigate the abrupt and massive blackout in Western Visayas.

In Senate Resolution No. 890, Hontiveros said that a “deeper and more extensive’ investigation is needed to address all factors behind the Panay blackout last Jan. 2, which disrupted the daily lives of people in five provinces, caused substantial financial losses for businesses, and impeded the operation of government offices, schools, and hospitals.

“Considering that past investigations and probes have not yielded palpable results, an even more comprehensive, thorough, and extensive examination needs to be conducted, including a review of the concession agreement between the National Transmission Corporation and the NGCP, as well as NGCP’s 25-year legislative franchise itself,” the resolution said.

“We must urgently review and strengthen the effectiveness of all protocols, such as DOE’s mechanisms during incidents like simultaneous and unplanned power plant shutdowns. NGCP claims that its decision to take no action like manual load dropping during the blackout was according to ‘standard protocols.’ Is it standard procedure to do nothing when there is a crisis like a blackout?” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros, who hails from Panay, noted that Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Raphael Lotilla has blamed NGCP for the power outage, since the “company failed to prevent the system-wide power shutdown by proactively calling on the distribution utilities and electric cooperatives in Panay to reduce their load and avoid a sub-system-wide collapse.”

She also questioned the slow and inadequate real-time updates to energy stakeholders and the public amid the power outage.

Real time monitoring of the Visayas grid using the NGCP’s own Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, Hontiveros said, should have allowed it to provide information and act immediately during the critical two-hour period between the disruption of PEDC Unit 1, and the subsequent shutdown by other power plants.

The senator then said that should the Senate’s investigation reveal gross negligence and incompetence in the system operations of NGCP, then “Congress should commence a review of the NGCP’s concession agreement and ultimately, its 25-year legislative franchise.”

“Our nation’s grid operator cannot and should not be remiss in its obligation to transmit electricity to where it is needed throughout the country,” she said.

Marcos, for his part, said the inquiry is aimed at ensuring the “timely expansion of the transmission system in line with the development needs of our people and for its effective and efficient operation.”

“There is a compelling need for Congress to conduct an investigation with the end in view of revisiting and reviewing the franchise of the NGCP (National Grid Corp. of the Philippines),” Marcos, representative of Ilocos Norte first district, said in his resolution filed Jan. 5.

“The review should include the possible separation and transfer of the systems operation function from the NGCP to another entity which could carry out such function more efficiently,” the eldest son of President Marcos, who is on his first term as congressman, said.

Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte said the NGCP franchise should be revoked after it refused to own up to its failure to deal with the Jan. 2 blackout.

“Atonement or corrective action can take place only when preceded by an acceptance of some sort or level of lapse in judgment or action, so how can we expect the NGCP to reform its ways or do better in running our national transmission system if it thinks it is not guilty of anything in the performance of its critical job?” Villafuerte said in a statement.

Senator Imee Marcos said it is time for Congress to act since it is clear the NGCP is not learning from its mistakes.

What happened in Panay, she said, is clearly a case of grid mismanagement and lack of investment in interconnectivity and reserve requirements, as well as lack of proactive management.

“It is very clear that the NGCP has projects under the Transmission Development Plan that have been delayed, some by up to seven years,” she said.

These cases include the Cebu-Negros-Panay Backbone Project and the Visayas-Mindanao Interconnection Project, which could have alleviated the power problem in Panay.

Also on Monday, the Maharlika Investment Corp. said it is willing to “help” the NGCP upgrade its systems through investments.

MIC President and CEO Rafael Consing Jr said the NGCP’s funds might not be enough due to the rapid increase in the generation of renewable power coming in, which causes volatility in the grid.

House Speaker Martin Romualdez earlier floated the idea that the MIC should consider investing in NGCP following the massive blackout that hit Panay Island.


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