By: CMFR Staff
Posted on: June 2, 2023, 3:00 pm
June 5, 2023, 12:51 pm
JEERS TO the media's limited coverage of the country's energy sector, a crucial area that requires reporting beyond planned and unplanned blackouts.
What's the story?
Early this month, the privately-owned National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) declared a red alert on the Luzon grid lasting five hours on May 8, the day of the announcement. Provinces in Northern Luzon would experience disruption in service. Affected areas included those served by Meralco in Metro Manila and other nearby provinces. The same announcement placed Visayas on yellow alert for two hours on the same day.
News coverage defined "red" and "yellow" alerts: the former meaning demand exceeds supply that power interruptions are guaranteed and would be rotational; the latter meaning energy reserves are thin, but won't necessarily lead to blackouts. Reports also carried the explanations both from the NGCP and the Department of Energy that "the Bolo-Masinloc 230-kV Line 2 tripped." While there is a backup transmission line, two out of three units in Masinloc plant also tripped, which meant a decrease in available power.
In a May 9 briefing, the DOE said they are expecting 15 more yellow alerts for the remaining months of the year. Energy Undersecretary Rowena Cristina Guevarra said the May 8 red alert was the first for 2023, and it is possible that it would not be the last.
What the reports lacked
There was no further question on DOE's admission that reserves would remain thin for the rest of the year. Media did not ask what steps are being taken to address this.
Media immediately pursued another angle of the story when senators floated the idea of revisiting NGCP's franchise. Skipping discussion of relevant background on recurrent power failures, media began following the discussion in hearings on energy in both legislative chambers, which put NGCP under scrutiny.
In particular, the Senate's two hearings held within the last two weeks of May focused on old security concerns with the State Grid Corporation of China which has a 40 percent stake in NGCP; the excessive dividends paid to NGCP shareholders; and the company's 72 delayed projects, which Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian claimed consumers are already paying for. NGCP admitted the delays due to the pandemic and right-of-way issues, but could not confirm whether the costs of NGCP projects are included in transmission charges.
What could have been done
There is no shortage of non-government experts available on energy issues, but coverage only followed the legislative probes.
Accounts missed key information from Romeo Bernardo's April 16 column in BusinessWorld. Bernardo supplied the context to generation methods and supply-demand gaps experienced by each major island region, noting that these issues are cyclical. He also listed solutions that are already carried out or being readied by concerned sectors, adding urgent "to-do's": cutting red tape associated with building new plants; developing more energy storage facilities; accelerating investments in transmission and distribution; and conserving power not just for summer but all year-round.
Why is this important?
The legislative proceedings mean well. But these should not be the only stories the public gets from the news. For sure, the NGCP is a crucial figure as it is the sole company tasked with power transmission. But whether the public has to contend with a looming power crisis, especially with the increasing temperatures this time of year, presents itself as an equally pressing discussion. The supposed "forced outages" of power plants must also be questioned: What would it take to make them run as intended?
Journalists must fully understand the energy chain, from generation to storage, and from transmission to distribution in order to report better on power issues.