Keeping power affordable

By Herbert Vego

IF he had his way, MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro would not hike the price of electricity in Iloilo City.

While that sounds ironic, coming from a corporate executive, Castro told us that the company treasures its reputation as distributor of the lowest-priced electricity in the Philippines, now at ₱6.70 per kilowatt-hour. MORE Power has upped its rates by only 40 centavos.

In contrast, the three branches of the Iloilo Electric Cooperative charge provincial residents from ₱11 to ₱13 per KWh.

“We are affected by the hike in oil prices in the world market due to the distortion of energy supply triggered by the war between Russia and Ukraine,” Castro lamented. “You see, 40 percent of energy comes from coal, 20 percent from oil.”

Fortunately for MORE Power, it still relies mainly on cheaper geothermal power generated by the Leyte-based Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corp.

The downside to the MORE-Psalm contract is that its renewal does not guarantee similar pricing. Renewal of contracts with PSALM and other sources, fortunately, would have to undergo a competitive selection process.

“I could not give an estimate on how long we could sustain our price level,” Castro admitted. “But once we raise rates to sustain our operation, we would still peg the lowest. For sure the other distribution utilities will likewise hike rates.”

Castro once again appealed to our radio audience to refrain from pilfering electricity. It could do more harm than good, as it did to two persons recently caught installing “jumpers”. They ended up detained at the La Paz police station.

The upside is that MORE Power’s modernization program translates to more efficiency at lesser operating cost.

A case in point is the recent installation of a new 33-MVA (megavolt ampere) transformer at the Iloilo City Proper substation in lieu of the decades-old, obsolete 20-MVA taken over from the previous power-distribution franchisee.

Until then, the City Proper substation had to partially depend on the Mandurriao and Molo substations for borrowed load. This sort of load balancing, however, chokes the system.

The Mandurriao substation itself, for instance, is now bursting at the seams.  It is now undergoing line rehabilitation that necessitates scheduled outages in order to replace dilapidated primary and secondary wires with thicker ones.

“To provide breathing space for the system,” Castro enthused, “we intend to install a 30 to 36-MVA substation for the Megaworld.”

It’s only proper and fitting because the Megaworld in Mandurriao is a sky-scraping 72-hectare township hosting Iloilo’s newest and most modern central business district. It hosts the Festive Walk Mall, the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA), the 1.7-hectare Iloilo Convention Center (ICC), residential condominiums, office towers, and world-class hotels Marriott and Richmonde.

To keep pace with the modernization of infrastructure in Iloilo City, Castro revealed that complete automation of the power-distribution system would take effect within five years.

A working example of automation is the use of reclosers to detect causes of power outages and to restore the same, as much as possible without human intervention. It could be so quick that the customers would not even feel the fault in the system.

Our conversation with Sir Roel segued to MORE Power’s non-electrical exercise of its corporate social responsibility, such as its voluntary role in urban gardening. With the cooperation of City Agriculturist Inigo Garingalao, they have identified city lots available for vegetable farming.

“We bought seeds and distributed them to interested farmers,” Castro said. “We also sponsored the purchase of tents.”

If you see these tent-covered veggie stalls at the Molo plaza on weekends, they are where you could buy vegetables cheaper from the farmers themselves

Since direct selling eliminates middlemen, the customers’ savings could be set aside to complete the amount needed to pay electricity bills.