Members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan expressed their utmost dismay on Tuesday as Palawan continues to suffer from relentless power outages, a situation many described as an appalling neglect impacting not only residents but also businesses.
During a regular session held on May 16, board members directed their frustration towards the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO), independent power producers (IPPs), and the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) for the continuing power interruptions and load shedding affecting municipalities and Puerto Princesa City.
Board Member Juan Antonio Alvarez conveyed his disappointment on behalf of Palaweños in his privilege speech during a regular session on May 16. He emphasized the persistent issue of daily power interruptions, affecting various towns, particularly the popular tourism destination El Nido.
“Ang bayan ng El Nido, hindi lang weekend ang rotational load shedding na ginagawa ng PALECO kundi araw-araw na. Nakakalungkot kasi tinaguriang pinakamagandang destinasyon sa buong mundo ang El Nido pero may problema tayo doon sa kuryente,” Alvarez said.
“[Kaya] nais kong ipatawag dito ang mga responsableng ahensya sa Sangguniang Panlalawigan para bigyan tayo ng update at ano ba talaga ang nangyayari sa bayan ng El Nido, kasi matagal ng problema ito sa El Nido, wayback 2016 pa nga,” he added.
Board Member Nieves Rosento, who previously served as mayor of the town of El Nido, said the problem has been persisting and is already taking a toll on local businesses.
She is worried that vacationers would be so inconvenienced by the blackouts that they won’t return and won’t recommend El Nido to their friends.
“Persistent occurrence na ang brownout sa El Nido at hindi na ito katanggap-tanggap bilang isang tourism destination na madi-discourage po ‘yung mga turista na dumarating,” she said.
Rosento suggested that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan study the province’s energy requirements and explore the possibility of using renewable energy as a solution to the power supply problem.
Furthermore, municipalities in the southern part of the province continue too to experience power interruptions almost daily.
“Lahat ng nasasakupan ng Palawan Electric Cooperative ay nakakaranas ng load shedding, simula pa noong mga nakaraang linggo hanggang sa kasalukuyan. Nalulungkot tayo sa sitwasyon dahil hindi nagbabago at tila lumalala pa,” said Board Member Ryan Maminta.
The Committee on Energy is scheduled to summon PALECO, the IPPs, and NAPOCOR to discuss their current efforts in addressing the power supply problem in the province.
El Nido demands investigation
On Tuesday, May 16, Leonides Echague, the chairman of the El Nido Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ENCCI), posted a statement that they have brought the issue of repeated power outages in their town to the attention of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Echague explained that after attending two crucial meetings arranged and initiated by the municipal government with PALECO and NAPOCOR, the ENCCI Board of Directors have decided to escalate the matter to President Marcos, hoping he would recognize the urgency and the impact of the situation.
“By bringing this issue to the attention of the highest authority, we aim to garner the support and intervention needed to address the power shortage in El Nido effectively and we are grateful to announce that our letter addressing the power shortage issue in El Nido has been received and acknowledged by the Office of the President of the Philippines!” he stated.
In the letter, President Marcos is urged to instruct pertinent government entities to investigate the shortage of power supply, as well as the quality and reliability of services provided by PALECO, and the potential monopoly in the industry.
ENCCI has also called for no power outages, an enhanced distribution system, and consistent power supply, among others.
PALECO general manager Engr. Rez Contrivida has acknowledged that the demand for power has increased beyond the combined capacity of the IPPs. This is assuming that the IPPs are operating at their best scenario without any unexpected shutdowns or mechanical issues. In simpler terms, the current demand for power exceeds the maximum capacity of the existing power sources in the area.
Contrivida stated that their electricity production and distribution capacity of 65 MW has reached its maximum limit, matching the current demand for power.
“Naglalabas na kasi kami ng scheduled load shedding dahil nga yong supply natin is almost equal the demand,” he said, attributing the increase in demand to the current intense hot weather being experienced in Palawan.
Furthermore, the power plants are occasionally shut down for maintenance, leading to a shortage of electricity supply. Since there is no surplus electricity to serve as a backup, PALECO has been compelled to carry out rotational brownouts.
The power supply situation in Palawan has become even more precarious due to the financial difficulties faced by the independent power producers, which are caused by the unpaid subsidies from the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR).
For off-grid areas such as Palawan and other island provinces, the current system provides consumers with protection against the high cost of power generation through a subsidy program known as “missionary electrification” or “Universal Charge on Missionary Electrification” (UCME).
This subsidy is paid for by consumers nationwide and collected by the NAPOCOR, which is responsible for paying the power producers.
The UCME was established to provide subsidies to regions that were not connected to major power grids, aiming to elevate the rate of progress and development in these areas to the level of the main grids.
Unfortunately, NAPOCOR’s financial capacity to pay the power producers in missionary areas, including Palawan, has been strained by the global increase in fuel costs and the outbreak of war in Ukraine.