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MINDANAO POWER CRISIS | Napocor says Lake Lanao elevation to drop to critical level by next month

Agus 1 hydropower plant draws from Lake Lanao and accounts for 40 percent of Mindanao's electricity supply means BUSINESS

MANILA - National Power Corp (Napocor) on Monday called on Mindanao electric utilities to secure their supply from other sources, and asked consumers to minimize use of appliances during peak periods amid the dwindling reservoir levels of hydro plants in the region.

In a statement, the state-owned company said it has observed a downward trend in the elevation of Lake Lanao, which is the source of water for running the Agus hydropower plants. The Agus facilities contribute 35-40 percent of Mindanao's electricity requirements.

Given the rate of Lanao Lake use and assuming no improvement in water inflow, its elevation is projected to go down to the critical level of 699.15 meters above sea level by next month.

At this elevation, Napocor's protocol requires reducing its operations, resulting in limited electricity supply from the Agus hydro plants. Napocor's protocol also requires that Lake Lanao's elevation stay above 698.15 meters above sea level, barring which the hydro plants would be shut down altogether.

With the onset of summer, Lake Lanao's elevation is expected to recede and reach critical level should Napocor continue to draw the maximum allowable water from the lake. To ensure that the lake's elevation is kept above critical by the May 13 elections, Napocor will start conserving water use by supplying power to the extent of its contracted capacity with its customers of 924 megawatts for until next month.

Despite the drop in Lake Lanao's elevation, Napocor said the combined dependable capacity of the Agus and Pulangi hydro plants, of Power Barge (PB) 104 and of the company's independent power producers (IPP) stands at 924 megawatts, or enough to meet the state-owned firm's obligation with Mindanao customers. 

Until 2010, Napocor's dependable capacity included the 200-megawatt PBs 117 and 118. State-run Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp (Psalm) however has since sold them so electric cooperatives have to forge supply contracts with the new owner, Therma Maring Inc, a unit of Aboitiz Power Corp.

New coal thermal plants are under construction in Mindanao but these won't go on stream until 2015.

Until then, the only solution is for the electric cooperatives to fully nominate their contracted power supply from Therma Marine, to request their end-consumers to shift electricity use to off-peak periods (10 p.m.-7 a.m.) and to use their standby generator sets during peak periods (9 a.m.-9 p.m.).  

"Full nomination by the concerned electric cooperatives and dispatch of said power barges could have covered the power supply shortfall in their respective franchise areas," Napocor said.

It said electric cooperatives have not been tapping in full their contracted capacities with private power plants because doing so would be costlier for them and by extension for their customers.

Last week, the Department of Energy (DOE) urged electricity cooperatives to tap financing from the National Electrification Administration (NEA) for the acquisition of gensets.