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MANILA, Philippines – A victim of its own success. That is what it has come down to for Puerto Princesa City, which earlier had to limit access to the Underground River, in order to protect it from possible damage from a surge in visitors.
This time around, the city government is scrounging for available power capacity to augment its increasing electricity needs as the number of tourists has more than tripled following the "New Seven Wonders of Nature" declaration of the Underground River early this year.
Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn told InterAksyon.com that he is now knocking on the doors of the National Power Corp. (Napocor) as the local government looks for ways to source the additional 5-megawatt (MW) to 10-MW power that the city needs, in hopes of saving the P15-billion tourism industry.
"Right now we do not have any buffer. Given the many business establishments that have been set up, we need at least 10 MW of additional power," he said.
Prior to the "New Seven Wonders of Nature" win, Puerto Princesa's tourist arrivals hovered at around 160,000 a year; the number was at 514,000 for 2011, or right after the Palawan Underground River joined the shortlist for the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
Last month, InterAskyon.com reported that the sudden increase in tourists caught the city government off-guard, and it had to limit the access to the underground river in Sabang to 800 people a day to preserve the park.
Hagedorn said that in the first quarter, tourist arrivals jumped by 60 percent, and this put a strain on the city's capacity to provide electricity to residents and visitors. This is especially problematic during the summer months when all tourists turn on their airconditioners at the same time.
The city official said this power supply problem was already felt two months ago, and the local government is now implementing a “power-sharing” scheme that causes blackouts of three to four hours in a given area until last week. He also said they have asked citizens to conserve electricity so as not to further strain the already fragile power situation.
Last Friday, Hagedorn asked the Sangguniang Panglungsod to declare a state of emergency so they can immediately address this problem that affects the city's small and medium-scale agricultural enterprises.
According to the provincial infromation office, Palawan depends mainly on agriculture and tourism. Most of the crops grown in the province's 454,405 hectares of agricultural land, or 31 percent of the total land area, are palay, corn, bananas and cashew.
The power crisis also threatens the nascent P15-billion tourism industry.
"Even though the hotels have their own generators, these can only give them limited electricity and these cannot be enough when guests turn on their air conditioners," Hagedorn said.
Under the Local Government Code, Puerto Princesa City can ask for special powers to immediately address the basic needs of its citizens.
As a long-term solution, the city government can put up its own power plant of at least 10MW and open this to joint-venture partners.
Palawan has 23 municipalities and most of those affected by the power crisis are those towns that are connected to the grid and the province's capital, Hagedorn said.
As of 2007, the total installed capacity of all power generating sets in 2007 is 36.35 MW with average capacity of 400 kilowatts. According to the province's website, all units are diesel-powered except for the power generating station in Puerto Princesa. The power supply is complemented by a smattering of solar home system and battery charging stations in remote and island-barangays.
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