Cheaper electricity stays

By Herbert Vego

IT must have cost millions of pesos for MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) to import a new sub-station, which is now being installed where the old one still stands on Gen. Luna St., Iloilo City.

During an on-site tour of the new giant facility intended for the City Proper, no less than MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro briefed us on why the near-obsolete, decades-old 20-MVA (megavolt) giant transformer had to be decommissioned.

“This new one packs more power, 33 MVA,” he said.

Needless to say, it would solve the problem of power shortage that used to necessitate load transfer from one substation to another in order to prevent power outages.

The company is living up to its promise of “more power” to its modernization program that goes well with its rapid customer expansion.  When it took over the operation of previous franchisee Panay Electric Co. (PECO) in February 2020, there were more or less 63,000 household customers.  In two years, the number has soared to 88,000.

There’s more to that number than disciplinary legal action against power pilferers. Another good reason is because the company is sensitive to customer complaints.

Castro admitted that while it hurts him and the entire personnel to be whipped in the social media for brownouts and even the briefest delay in expected power restoration, “it’s good because it compels us to be more efficient.”

The company’s linemen are on the job day and night in response to customers’ complaints ranging from pole fires to accidental brownouts.

There is more efficiency in hiring the Meralco Industrial Engineering Services Corporation (MIESCOR) to handle the ongoing installation of the new sub-station, since it is the most in-demand engineering company serving power infrastructure nationwide.

An engineer from MIESCOR volunteered the information that the new substation is capable of connecting “underground” in case of shift to “buried” instead of hanging power lines.

If we heard Castro right, at least two more substations are on the way.

That would indeed become necessary with the likelihood of MORE Power taking over power distribution in Passi City and seven municipalities of Iloilo being served by branches of Iloilo Electric Cooperative (ILECO), namely Pavia, Sta. Barbara, Leganes, Alimodian, Leon, San Miguel, Zarraga, New Lucena, Anilao, Banate, Barotac Nuevo, Dumangas, Dingle, Duenas and San Enrique.

The bill granting expansion of MORE Power franchise to the said towns – sponsored by Congressmen Mike Gorriceta, Braeden John Biron and Julienne Baronda — has passed the House and is now awaiting Senate deliberation.

It would amend Republic Act 11212 which had granted MORE Power the franchise to distribute electricity in Iloilo City alone.

As we have noted in past columns, the primary reason for the clamor for “change” in those places is the cheaper rate of MORE Power. Hovering at more or less P6.40 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), it is still the cheapest in the Philippines.

ILECOs residential rates, on the other hand, cost almost double, swinging between P11 and P12/kWh.

ILECO officials have tried to downplay the big price gap as “temporary” because the short-term contract of MORE Power with the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) for cheaper geothermal energy from Leyte would soon expire.

When we asked Mr. Castro for reaction, he said, “We are renewing our contract.  Our prices would remain stable.”

It would no doubt come as a surprise in the wake of the never-ending inflation of prices of diesel, which fuels most generating utilities in the Philippines.

Simply put, geothermal power plants – such as PSALM’s in Tongonan, Leyte — use steam to produce electricity. The steam from reservoirs of hot water below the earth’s surface rotates the turbine that activates the electricity generator.

The higher prices imposed by most distribution utilities for higher “line rentals”, in fairness to them, are inevitable because of an accident that befell a 90-negawatt submarine cable of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) along Bio-os River in Amlan, Negros Oriental on June 15, 2021.

Anyway, the cooperatives are not meant to expand exponentially. To cite the opinion of lawyer Hector Teodosio, “The concept of electric cooperative was envisioned more than 40 years ago to provide power to municipalities and rural areas for lighting their homes. But now there are medium-sized industries, shopping malls, air-conditioned housing units and welding shops.”