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Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco is being interviewed by the local media outside the office of the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative. (City Hall Photo)

Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco is being interviewed by the local media outside the office of the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative. (City Hall Photo)

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Residents hold a rally in Zamboanga City on Thursday, August 6, 2015 to protest the failure of the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative to address the power crisis that has affected not only the consumers, but the business sector and the local economy as well. (Photo by Ely Dumaboc - Mindanao Examiner)

Residents hold a rally in Zamboanga City on Thursday, August 6, 2015 to protest the failure of the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative to address the power crisis that has affected not only the consumers, but the business sector and the local economy as well. (Photo by Ely Dumaboc – Mindanao Examiner)

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ZAMBOANGA CITY – Hundreds of people held an indignation rally on Thursday demanding the ouster of executives and officials of the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative for their failure to address the worsening power situation here.

Members of the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms Inc. (NASECOR) and urban poor associations led the rally in front of the office of the electric cooperative in the village of Putik. A news correspondent of Mindanao Examiner who was photographing the protesters said as many as 600 people were in the rally.

The protest coincided with the public hearing of the Energy Regulatory Commission and representatives of the local business sector.

Many of those who joined the rally carried placards demanding for the immediate resignation of George Ledesma, general manager of the power cooperative, and members of the board of directors, including its president Omar Sahi for their failure to find viable solutions to the power crisis that is affecting not only the business sector, but the local economy as well.

Local council members also joined the rally and spoke in front of the huge crowd, but were several times interrupted by loud applause.

The organizers of the rally expected up to 5,000 people to join the protest, but text messages had been circulated by unknown people discouraging residents from joining the mass action, saying, terrorists could target the protesters and even the local electric cooperative.

Hundreds of armed policemen and soldiers were also deployed inside and outside the office of the electric cooperative to protect the installation from possible attack.

Mayor Beng Climaco said the local government issued a rally permit “to allow people to freely voice out their sentiments on prevailing power situation in the city.”

The rally permit was issued to the NASECOR led by its President Ramon Follosco based on the recommendations of the police, the military and the City Legal Office. “Our primary call is public interest and public safety though we are one in the appeal that Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative review and change its present system of operation,” Climaco said.

Climaco said the increasing frequency of power outages has affected Zamboanga City. “We are appealing to Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative to review its operations and find out what can be done to prevent further blackouts. We sympathize with the people in their sufferings and we are one with them as everybody is suffering,” she said.

The rally ended peacefully with no untoward incidents.

Worsening Power Situation

For the past several months now, Zamboanga City has been suffering from severe power curtailment – as much as 6 to 8 hours a day.

Ledesma previously blamed the woes to the inadequate supply of electricity from various independent power producers to the dry season in summer time and the maintenance shutdown of hydro and coal-fired power plants in Mindanao – for the power crisis in Zamboanga.

The local cooperative said it needs at least 80 megawatts or more of electricity and dependent on the supply it buys from power producers.

Ledesma said Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation is only giving Zamboanga – a highly urbanized city and one of the largest in the Philippines – 42 megawatts, and 18 megawatts more from Therma Marine Inc., of the Aboitiz Power Corp. and from Mapalad Power Corp.

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines or NGCP has previously blamed the low water level and routine maintenance in hydro-power plants in Mindanao as the culprit for the lack of power supply in the region. And with this problem, big power producers take advantage of the situation and offer alternative, but expensive solutions – the diesel-fed power barges and dirty coal-fired power plants – to provide more electricity supply.

The long hours of blackout are affecting not only many business establishments, but also hundreds of thousands of households here and there is no tangible solution in sight, not until 2016 when the 100-megawatt coal-fired power plant of the Alsons Power Holdings begins operations in the village of Talisayan. But villagers have been opposing the establishment of the coal-fired power plant in the village due to the serious health hazards this pose to humans and animals.

But Alsons have not started building its facility and cited many reasons for the alarming delay – from the failed rebellion in 2013 to the P900-million enhancement program it wanted from the local electric cooperative – in the construction of the 100 megawatt coal-fired power plant, although it finished another coal-fired power plant in Sarangani province.

Mindanao has been hit by repeated power crises in the past and nothing has been done by the government except to promote the use of coal-fired power plants – but this too, comes with a price and that translates to huge electric bills and environmental pollution.

The same problem occurred in 2013 when the region suffered to as much as 14 hours of blackout.

Chamber of Commerce Speaks Out

And the Zamboanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the acute power shortage has affected many business establishments here – big and small – and continues to threaten the vibrant economy.

“Sixty hours of power interruptions last March is bad for business. It increases our cost of operation and decreased the productivity of everyone, public and private offices. Even small businesses like Internet shops, beauty parlors and restaurants. No power, no business,” said Edwin To, president of the local business chamber.

He said business owners who can afford the use of power generators were also complaining because it adds up to the cost of running their establishment. “For those with generator, power costs are double. The Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative charges P8 per kilowatt hour while diesel generator is P18-P20 per kilowatt hour. Even if you have a generator, it’s not cheap to operate,” To said.

He also said that the entry of big business establishments in Zamboanga city will further affect the current power situation if the local electric cooperative cannot provide additional supply into the grid. “And this means more and longer power interruptions. Zamboanga chamber is always concern with the welfare of the entire city. We see it in a macro-perspective. We oversee the interest of the businesses and the people in the community,” To said.

At least 3 new malls are being constructed in Zamboanga – City Mall, Yubenco and KCC Mall de Zamboanga – aside from other smaller shops and establishments and their operation is expected to eat up the already depleted power supply here. Yubenco has opened recently part of its mall to the public.

Interruptible Load Program

The Department of Energy said the acute power shortage is expected to improve by 2017, and in the meantime, To said the Aquino government should push for the so-called Interruptible Load Program or ILP.

“In the meantime, the government should push for the ILP implementing rules and regulations and make it attractive for commercial establishments with excess power to join. Manage the demand side and advise users to conserve energy,” said To, who is also the president of Budgetwise supermarket, one of the biggest in Zamboanga; and the chairman of the modern Ciudad Medical Zamboanga.

According to the Retail Electricity Suppliers Association, ILP – a program established by the Department of Energy and the Energy Regulatory Commission aims to help mitigate the energy supply deficiency in the country until new capacities become available on the grid.

Companies with stand-by generation capacities who participate in the ILP will be compensated under this program should they use their own generating facilities during instances of power supply deficit.

But companies that will participate in the ILP will be asked by the distribution utility to “de-load” for particular hours in a day when the power supply in the grid will not be enough for the power demand. “De-loading” will mean having to run its embedded stand-by generation sets to provide for its own electricity requirements.

For Pedro Rufo Soliven, regional governor of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Western Mindanao, said everybody must do their share in helping the government find a solution to the acute power crisis.

Soliven, former president of the Zamboanga city Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “We would like to be part of the solution and we are working hand-in-hand with the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative and the Local government of Zamboanga and look for solution to address this problem of power curtailment.”

“And we are also looking for short term and long term solutions on how we can really solve immediately the lack of electricity supply in the city and be able really to come up with something to address the (power) demand of the city.”

The costs of the power crisis to the businesses and local economy are not readily available.

The power crisis still continues despite a forum held in Zamboanga City by the Department of Energy to address the shortage of electricity here.  The forum was attended by Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and National Electrification Administration Deputy Administrator Edgardo Piamonte and his engineer Ferdinand Villareal and other stake holders.

One of the solutions proposed during the forum was for the local cooperative to purchase excess or unused electricity from Mapalad Power Corporation which would come from its plants in North Cotabato and Davao provinces. (Mindanao Examiner)

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