ZAMBOANGA CITY – Following public criticisms and mounting complaints of daily power outages against the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative or ZAMCELCO, the Department of Energy or DOE is now looking into the problem that has seriously affected the local economy.
Electricity supplier Western Mindanao Power Corporation or WMPC, operated by Alto Power Management Corporation, has cut off power supply to ZAMCELCO – now under the management of Crown Investments Holdings, Inc. and Desco Inc. – after refusing to pay its overdue account amounting to P460 million from only P235 million in February.
Crown Investments Holdings, Inc. and Desco Inc. took over ZAMCELCO in January this year after bailing out the heavily-indebted and poorly-managed electric cooperative for P2.5 billion. Now ZAMCELCO claims that WMPC had over billed the electric cooperative since 2015 by P440 million and is demanding a refund.
WMPC, a partnership between Alsons Consolidated Resources, Inc. and Toyota Tshusho Corporation of Japan, also operates diesel plants of the Mapalad Power Corporation in Iligan City and the Southern Philippines Power Corporation in Sarangani province.
Energy Assistant Secretary Redentor Delola was sent to Zamboanga City recently where he met with Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco Salazar to discuss the power crisis. Salazar, exasperated by the daily power outages, demanded that ZAMCELCO pay up its overdue accounts to WMPC and resolve the crisis. She also brought the matter repeatedly to the attention of the DOE and the National Electrification Administration or NEA.
“The Department of Energy is here because the Secretary (Alfonso Cusi) assigned me to look into the power situation in Zamboanga. We were made aware already of the long standing issue that we have here, lalong lalo na sa mga power outages that we have 2 to 3 hours of outages per day.”
“We went around the city and talked to some people kung ano yun talagang nangyari, we talked to some members of the Regional Development Council and we talked to the good Mayor kung ano yun problema. When we reviewed the entire thing, nakikita natin na the one that is causing our problem that we have right now is the dispute between Investment Management Team (IMC) which recently came in to manage ZAMCELCO and one of the (power) supplier (WMPC),” Delola said.
He said the power problem in Zamboanga has worsened, adding, Cusi instructed him to find a solution to solve the power crisis in Zamboanga. He said a team of lawyers and engineers are also expected to arrive here soon to conduct an audit and report their findings.
“Yun po ang gustong i-parating ng ating Secretary ng Department of Energy, the DOE will look into this one, we will find ways to finally settle, or finally find a solution to this problem na matagal na natin nai-experience na lumala lang ngayon. And hopefully we can help also the new IMC team to really rehabilitate and improve the services in Zamboanga,” Delola said.
“The Department of Energy will be back and we will conduct an audit. We will bring a team of lawyers and engineers that will review the situation that we have and withy what’s happening now the Department of Energy is stepping in to help address the issue and help find a solution to this problem,” he added.
It was unknown whether former ZAMCELCO officials had knowledge of the overbilling or not, but many executives had been sacked the past years by NEA on corruption allegations, but none of them had been criminally charged.
With ZAMCELCO and WMPC locked in a legal battle, electric consumers and businesses here continue to suffer from power outages and poor utility services. ZAMCELCO also stopped buying electricity from WMPC and is now scouting for new power suppliers.
It also acquired more expensive diesel-powered generators to be able to supply Zamboanga’s power demand of at least 80 megawatts, but these are only being used during peak hours and the same problem remains the same.
Salazar said rotational power outages, which began in February, have already affected the local economy with many business establishments spending more on fuel to run their generators for hours on a daily basis. The lack of household electricity also put heavy burden on residents and many of them rely on ZAMCELCO for power supply because they cannot afford to buy their own generators.
Salazar has written a strongly-worded letter to ZAMCELCO and demanding it to pay WMPC and to restore normal electricity supply in Zamboanga. A copy of the April 1 letter addressed to lawyer Jomar Castillo was also posted on Salazar’s Facebook page and reads: “This has reference to the current power situation in our City. As you know, Zamboanga City plays a key role not only in trade and commerce, but in national security as well. Residents and businesses are complaining of longer and more frequent outages since February 4 that adversely affected our local economy prompting me to write this demand letter.”
“While we support the Investment Management Contract and laud your commitment to pump in P2.5 billion into ZAMCELCO, we can no longer tolerate the rotating blackouts. Whether there is legal basis to withhold payment to WMPC must be settled in the proper courts of law. In the meantime, our people cannot suffer further. We have been paying our monthly bills and we see no reason why we are made to suffer the consequences of the electric cooperative’s refusal to pay WMPC. For Zamboanga City that is hub of trade and commerce and also hosts to the Western Mindanao Command, the stakes are too high if power outages will continue.”
Salazar also said electric consumers are demanding ZAMCELCO to provide them with better services. “We have been appealing many times to ZAMCELCO to the extent that the local government even held talks with representatives of ZAMCELCO and WMPC for them to settle their differences or legal problems because everybody is affected by this inadequate supply of electricity. We cannot go on like this and this problem must be resolved quickly,” Salazar said.
Aside from power outages, ZAMCELCO’s irregular supply of electricity here resulted in low voltage most of the time and residents blamed the utility firm for damages on their appliances. And worst, ZAMCELCO and WMPC traded accusations in the media while electric consumers suffer from the rift.
Since 2010, Zamboanga suffered from severe power curtailment – as much as 6 hours a day and at worst, 14 hours or more. And ZAMCELCO blamed the power crisis to El Niño weather phenomenon and the maintenance shutdown of hydro and coal-fired power plants in Mindanao.
ZAMCELCO could only wait for the construction of the 100-megawatt coal-fired power plant of Alsons Power Holdings which was originally set to begin operation in 2016 in the village of Talisayan.
But Alsons failed to start building its facility and cited many reasons for the long delay – from the failed Moro rebellion here in 2013 to the P900-million enhancement program it was demanding from ZAMCELCO as an assurance it could pay them for the stable supply of electricity.
Even today, Alsons has not started construction of its coal-fired power plant here and ZAMCELCO said it would not purchase electricity from Alsons or what it is called now the San Ramon Power, Inc. due to the current problems involving the two groups. (The Zamboanga Post)
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