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Double whammy: No power, water

8-min. Meralco outage latest woe

SOME WATER, NO LIGHT. Residents collect water from a community deep well at Tambunting, Sta. Cruz, Manila, while a family uses a candle while waiting for the light to come back on after lunchtime (inset) in Tondo district on Tuesday. Norman Cruz

If the country’s dwindling water supplies weren’t enough amid the El Niño phenomenon, half a million customers of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and Quezon on Tuesday lost power for about eight minutes after a power plant tripped and led to an automatic load drop (ALD).

Meralco said the load drop—triggered by the tripping of the San Lorenzo Natural Gas Power Plant in Batangas — occurred at 10:58 a.m. and power was fully restored by 11:06 a.m. on July 11 or after eight minutes.

The ALD was implemented following National Grid Corp. of the Philippines’ declaration of a yellow alert in the Luzon grid from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

NGCP lifted the yellow alert at 4 p.m. due to lower demand and sufficient power reserves.

A yellow alert is issued when the operating margin (of electricity) is “insufficient to meet the transmission grid’s regulating and contingency requirement” and leads to temporary brownouts — lasting minutes, like the one that happened yesterday — as the system corrects the fluctuations, NGCP said.

A red alert status, meanwhile, often means longer blackouts, as it is issued when the power supply is insufficient to meet consumer demand and the transmission grid’s regulating requirement, it added.

Although the San Lorenzo plant is gas-powered, experts have expressed fears of a double whammy, as the country’s hydroelectric plants would also go offline and cause more brownouts with the shrinking water levels in hydropower dams nationwide.

National Water Resources Board executive director Sevillo David Jr. previously said water levels in all major dams have been going down, with Angat Dam’s reserve nearing the 180 critical level.

“If the Angat Dam water level continues to go down, it could breach the minimum operating level of 180 meters. We are now at 181.22 or about a meter away from critical level,” David said in a separate press briefing at the Palace.

“If the water level falls below 180 meters, we will prioritize the water supply of Metro Manila compared to other users that depend on Angat, including irrigation and the power sector. Angat Dam is currently contributing to power generation going to the Luzon grid,” he added.

Meanwhile, Meralco said it activated the interruptible load program and secured de-loading commitments from its big-load customers.

“These customers will be on standby in case there’s a need to de-load to help avoid service interruptions. We continue to monitor the situation and are ready to implement contingency measures as needed,” Meralco said.

The NGCP declared a yellow alert due to the tripping of the San Lorenzo Power Plant Modules 50 and 60 at 267MW each, at around 10:58 a.m., causing the decline in grid frequency.

The Department of Energy said the contingency reserve fell below the level of the highest unit online.

“Load dropping (interruptions) were reported to have occurred at NGCP and Meralco feeders following the tripping of San Lorenzo, but were immediately restored at 1106H for Meralco customers and at 1104H for NGCP customers,” DOE said.

DOE said it is still coordinating with San Lorenzo and other stakeholders for the cause of the tripping.

Earlier, the Palace said the Water Resources Management Office (WRMO) will issue this week its recommendations to address the effects of the El Niño phenomenon, but provided no specifics

“We will have a plan for the mitigation of the effects of El Niño this week. I just spoke to the Secretary of DENR this morning and she has told me that she will be prepared to make public what needs to be done,” President Marcos said during a meeting in Malacanang on government measures

Also on Tuesday, Deputy Speaker and Las Pinas Rep. Camille Villar urged the government to set up a fund that farmers affected by El Niño may tap into as a form of assistance.

“It is important to discuss this now and prepare for contingency measures, especially for our small-scale farmers,” Villar said.

A previous El Niño episode in the country in 2019 cost the agriculture sector an estimated P8 billion in damage.

The Philippines has officially entered an El Niño phase, the state weather bureau said earlier this week.

Experts warned that El Niño would most likely lead to a new spike in temperatures and trigger more extreme weather and climate events, affecting crops and food security in the regions.

Meanwhile, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian urged the government to mobilize local government units (LGUs) to address water shortage due to El Niño.

Gatchalian said he sees this as a short-term solution to ensure there’s continuity of water supply in many areas in the country amid El Niño.

He said the government should use the LGUs since they can temporarily address the annual supply of water although there’s no El Nino.

“It is important to re-activate LGUs because they have their own water tankers where they stored water that can be brought to their constituents,” Gatchalian said.

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