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Visayas, Mindanao grids to be linked

Visayas and Mindanao electricity soon will be linked. An undersea cable is to span 90 kilometers from Cebu to Dipolog City. National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) is bidding out the $1-billion work next month. Completion is in three years. Once done, the Visayas and Mindanao power grids can share reserves. Luzon, earlier fused to Visayas, will join the interplay. Generation plants will be optimized. Distributors can expand to new sites and facilities. Supply shortages and price spikes can be averted.

The project was delayed some months by government indecision and false starts. The state’s Transmission Company initially had wanted to do it, but relented to the private NGCP. Original submarine cabling on the eastside proved infeasible. The route was strewn with live ordnance – unexploded torpedoes and bombs – from the World War II Battle of Surigao. There are also a submerged volcano, fault lines, and seismic hazards like unstable rocks. New hydrographic surveys rated Sibonga in Cebu to Aurora in Zamboanga del Sur as safe. The Energy Regulatory Commission okayed the interconnection, on condition that it includes future expansion.

NGCP intends the Vis-Min connection to be state-of-the-art. Production of the submarine cable, the converter stations in Cebu and Dipolog, and the many substations will take 18 months. Erection of towers and transmission lines, another year-and-a-half. The Luz-Vis interconnection, from Naga City in Bicol to Ormoc City in Leyte, was completed in 2013. NGCP in 2009 won a 25-year franchise to operate, maintain, and expand the country’s three regional grids. It is 60-percent owned by Filipinos Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp. led by Henry Sy Jr., and Calaca High Power Corp. of Robert Coyiuto Jr. The State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) holds 40 percent as technical partner.

SGCC considers the Vis-Min interconnection a showcase. Interconnection is its main line. It is the world’s second largest company, next to retailer Walmart, and the largest among utilities. Transmitting 88 percent of China’s electricity, it is among that country’s three most valuable firms. The Philippines was SGCC’s first overseas venture.

In a sense, the Vis-Min interconnection would be a cinch for SGCC. It has built and runs 11,000 kilometers of transmission lines all over China. Those cables carry ultrahigh current – ± 800,000 volts – across mountains, deserts, and great rivers. SGCC employs over 1.3 million engineers and technicians. Not once in the past 30 years has its transmissions failed. Expanding in ten other lands, it now operates in Brazil, Australia, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

SGCC is the prime mover for world electricity linkup. Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed to the United Nations in 2015 a global energy interconnection (GEI). The bold idea is to generate, transport, and use clean, green energy first across neighboring countries and then across oceans onto continents. Smart grids and ultrahigh voltages can make that possible in long distances at minimal losses. With global electrification the one billion energy-poor people remaining in the world would benefit. The use of renewables would cut air, sea, and land pollution. Dirty air is today the leading cause of death more than malnutrition. GEI being a China initiative, SGCC naturally was tapped for implementation.

To SGCC was given the lead role in GEI research and development. Two hundred-sixty five utilities, universities, and science foundations from 22 countries, including the United States and European Union members, have formed a Global Energy Interconnection Development Cooperation Organization. They represent the fields of energy, electricity, information, environment, research, consultation, and finance, among others.

GEI is a preparation for fast new trends. For one, billions of dollars in personal investing by millennials, Christians, and activist funds are shifting to clean, green energy. As well the world is shifting to electric vehicles far ahead than expected. The world’s biggest carmakers will be rolling out only hybrids and pure electric units in the next five years. The millions of old petrol filling stations will give way to vehicle and drone battery recharging centers. Electricity demand will multiply exponentially.

Back to Vis-Min, the power grid fusion would mean electricity reaching barrios never before lighted up. With electrification would come livelihood opportunities. Education and communications would improve. Television and Internet would connect impoverished villagers to the bigger world. Thanks to NGCP-SGCC they would realize that want and violence are not their fate after all.

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