PECO gets flak for ‘mismanagement’

By: Francis Allan L. Angelo and Emme Rose Santiagudo

Panay Electric Co. (PECO) showed to all and sundry its subpar and sorry management style when Iloilo City was plunged into darkness and baked in the searing heat during the twin power blackouts on Oct 29 and 30, 2019.

More Electric and Power Corp. (MPEC), which now holds the congressional franchise to distribute electricity in Iloilo City, said that PECO committed grave disservice to consumers because of its failure to manage the power outage.

The outage on Oct 29 and 30 were caused by still unidentified problems in the transmission lines of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines.

Based on reports from NGCP, the second blackout around 8 a.m. Wednesday occurred after the submarine cable from Negros to Panay tripped, causing destabilization in the grid and forced power plants in Panay to shut down as a matter of protecting their facilities.

According to NGCP information officer Michelle Visera, they were able to restore the submarine cable to normalcy some 30 minutes after the incident, thus allowing power suppliers and distribution utilities to start restoring electricity.

In the case of PECO, MPEC observed that it took more or less 12 hours to restore supply in Iloilo City, much to the irritation of businesses and ordinary consumers.

To note, PECO has a 65-megawatt (MW) contract with PEDC and another 15MW contract level from the diesel-fired power plant of Panay Power Corp. (PPC), another GBPC subsidiary.

The PPC supply acts as reserve or backup for PECO in the event that the coal-fired power plants are offline. Diesel-fired power plants are ideal backups or intermediate supplies because they are faster to start up compared to coal plants which will take 3 to 5 hours to restart.

Citing insights of energy industry experts, MEPC said PECO could have implemented “rotating brownouts” in Iloilo City to ease the inconvenience caused by the blackout.

“PECO could have scheduled or rotated brownouts among its feeders so that one area will not suffer from almost 12 hours of blackout. That’s a standard practice among distribution utilities,” MEPC added.

It was learned that there were 4 feeders who retained to have electricity supplies or did not experience load dropping and that includes feeder 13 where the Cacho residence is connected.

The rotating brownout scheme will also address the changes in electricity rates caused by the use of diesel-fired power plants. Since diesel is pricier compared to coal, consumers can expect higher rates in their next billing cycle after the outage.

“Had PECO implemented the rotating brownouts, there will be some semblance of justice to the consumers. By the next billing cycle, consumers who endured 12 hours of blackout will pay the same rates imposed on consumers who had power last Wednesday. Maybe this is the result of experienced personnel leaving the company or being assigned to departments where they don’t belong,” MEPC added.

The Razon-led firm also questioned PECO’s failure to procure backup or reserve sources that can be readily dispatched during outages.

While it welcomes the fact that PECO has embedded sources in its franchise area, MEPC pointed out that having multiple energy sources is the most ideal setup in the power industry sector.

According to industry sources, PECO has a 45-megawatt line or connection to the wholesale electricity spot market. Given that the submarine cable was quickly restored, it could have used that connection to augment its backup from PPC while waiting for PEDC units to come online. The question now is did PECO use that resource to alleviate the suffering of Ilonggo consumers?” it added.

Eighty percent of the power requirement of PECO is being sourced from PEDC using its exclusive embedded transmission lines 2 and 4. This is why the Iloilo city consumers cannot avail from other sources of power available in the grid.

MEPC said it behooves every distribution utility to map out emergency measures in order to better serve consumers.

PECO, on the other hand, said it only depended on the stabilization of the transmission line and gradual restoration of electricity from its suppliers.

PECO Communications Manager Mikel Afzelius said they are ready to distribute power in Iloilo City as long as there is supply coming from their supplier like Global Business Power Corp (GBPC).

“Our jurisdiction is only at the city of Iloilo. We are only an electric distribution company we’re not a power generator and transmission operator. Tagasalo lang kita sang kuryente, whatever is given or supplied to us, that is what we distribute, kon indi maka-supply ang power company sa aton, indi man naton ma-distribute,” he noted.