DAVAO CITY – The government and some big players in the industry tried to rehash an old script. But the people of Mindanao didn’t buy it.
The threat of blackouts hovering over Mindanao has grabbed media attention and has spurred much public discussion over the past weeks. As melodramas go, this appears to be the biggest of the year – and a box office flop at that.
At the recently held Mindanao Power Summit called by President Benigno S. Aquino III, his message to Mindanao was unequivocal: “…[Y]ou will have to pay more….There are only two choices: pay a little more for energy, or live with the rotating brownouts.”
The President came. He threatened, quietly but firmly. For the people of Mindanao, rage. For big power players, a signal that the power-hunger games in Mindanao have begun.
Mindanao, the President brings you EPIRA.
EPIRA created blackouts – and needs them
For EPIRA or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (R.A. 9136) to work in Mindanao, blackouts are essential. No one likes blackouts. They are undesirable, especially to folks used to enjoying electricity at the flick of a switch. In these hot and getting even hotter times blackouts are a menace.
And they hold people hostage: Pay more for electricity. Accept coal in your community. Worse, accept nuclear energy. Let big power players control the Mindanao power scene. Of course you’ll have to pay more. Who says EPIRA isn’t working?
But to groups like ours who have been following the energy scene since the passage of EPIRA, it is clear that EPIRA created the blackouts in Mindanao. While the law delayed the privatization of the Agus Pulangi hydropower plants by 10 years, the privatization policy central to EPIRA meant that the government wouldn’t spend to sustain the level of operations of this major source of cheap electricity in Mindanao. And it didn’t. So while Agus Pulangi remains in public hands to this day, it has been left to deteriorate. Today it is generating only 60 percent of what it used to ten years ago.
Then when it was clear to the government of PNoy that Mindanao would be experiencing a power generation shortage sooner than later, what does it do: It sells two power barges in Mindanao to the Aboitiz group, through PSALM. The Department of Energy then applied pressure on the rural electric cooperatives to enter into contracts for expensive electricity from the privatized barges. When they resisted, they got outages.
It was just a matter of time – and good timing – for the scenario of a power crisis to unfold in Mindanao. With economic activity picking up in the island, with more households and business establishments needing electricity, and global warming wreaking havoc on an unmaintained hydropower plant, the time was drawing near to tell the people of Mindanao: pay more for electricity (PhP14 per kilowatt-hour). In short, let the blackouts begin so that Mindanao will succumb to the EPIRA big business game.
Why would Mindanaoans agree to this argument? In September 2010 the total average production cost (excluding depreciation) of Agus-Pulangi was only 21.34 centavos per kWh as compared to Iligan Diesel Power plant’s PhP7.79 per kWh and the Power Barge 104’s PhP7.34 per kWh. In that same period, the total net operating revenue of the seven hydropower plants of Agus and Pulangi reached PhP6.85 billion.
The FDC proposes that the government urgently upgrade the Agus-Pulangi hydropower complexes. This complex, despite global warming, remains vital to Mindanao, hence it must stay in public hands and its operation made transparent to all. The determination of present and projected load requirements for base, middle and peaking hours must be explained to all and must be apparent to all. The government must ensure that no power-hunger games are being played in Mindanao at the expense of its people.
Furthermore the government must give utmost importance to the enjoyment of clean, affordable and reliable electricity by the poor in this region. It can do so through the Agus-Pulangi power plants. In short, let the crisis be an opportunity towards genuine development through a reinvigorated sense of ownership and level of commitment to pursue a just transition towards sustainable energy development.
EPIRA must not become an obstacle to the development of Mindanao. We believe there are other doable ways to sustainably electrify Mindanao. Let’s keep big business as usual out of Mindanao.