Save Palawan from power woes, Duterte urged

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A boy enjoys a bike ride at Puerto Princesa City’s baywalk. —LEO SABANGAN II

A boy enjoys a bike ride at Puerto Princesa City’s baywalk. —LEO SABANGAN II

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Electricity consumers and business owners in Palawan province have asked President Duterte to intervene and solve the province’s worsening power supply problem.

Daily and frequent outages, triggered by a shortage of power supply for distribution to the mainland grid, have pushed local groups to demand an investigation of what they claimed to be anomalous power supply contracts entered into by Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco).

“If President Duterte is really against corruption, he is our last recourse and we are hoping that he can untangle this mess,” former Vice Gov. Arturo Ventura, a resort owner, said in a press conference attended by civil society groups and business owners here on Thursday.

In a letter sent to Malacañang on Thursday, the group asked Mr. Duterte to order the immediate deployment of a power barge from the National Power Corp. to augment supply coming from three independent power producers who failed to deliver their contracted power due to breakdowns of their power generators or maintenance shutdowns.

They also asked the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to hasten the approval of supply agreements to improve the power situation in the province.

The group blamed DMCI Power Corp. for the power shortage, noting that the company had been unable to fulfill its obligations since bagging the contract with Paleco.

DMCI Power in 2012 entered into a contract with Paleco to put up a coal-fired power plant. The project, however, faced stiff opposition during its consultation phase, despite support from local governments and political leaders in the province.

Unable to secure the required national permits including an environmental compliance certificate, the company had put up diesel-fired generators and, recently, two bunker fuel-fed generators in Aborlan to produce electricity. These, however, faced technical problems connecting to the main grid, causing power interruption.

Shifting blame

In a statement, DMCI Power said it should not be faulted “for something that we have been working so hard to prevent all these years.”

“To date, we have not been allowed to construct the coal plant which would have addressed the power reliability issue in Palawan… For the last five years, we have been urging the concerned government units and agencies to approve the construction of our 15-megawatt coal plant to prevent a massive power shortage in the province,” it said.

To meet its service obligations, the company said it had been running its diesel plants beyond their operating design.

“We appeal to President Duterte to finally put an end to the power crisis in Palawan by allowing us to build an affordable, reliable power source in the area,” DMCI Power said.

Civil society leaders claimed the DMCI contract was a “sweetheart deal” with Paleco allegedly laced with corruption.

They also blamed the provincial government for failing to execute an energy master plan which prescribed the use of renewable energy resources, among them a mini-hydro project awaiting approval from the ERC.

But Ric Zambales, Paleco general manager, dismissed the accusations in radio interviews as “paninira lang” or mere mudslinging.

In separate interviews, Paleco officials said there were interest groups blocking the approval of supply contracts in the DOE and ERC.

Ventura’s group said local business and political interests had conspired to bring back the coal plant project.

“We abhor any attempt by politicians and their business associates to force coal upon us. The people of Palawan have spoken up on this issue and it is nonnegotiable,” the group’s letter to Mr. Duterte said.

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