Renewable energy could end Occidental Mindoro’s power woes

FOR years, the people of Occidental Mindoro have been plagued by daily power outages that lasted as long as 20 hours. The situation reached a point where the provincial government had to declare a state of calamity.

The crisis arose because of snags in the energy supply chain. The Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative Inc. (Omeco), the power distributor in the province, said it was getting only 12 megawatts from its lone supplier, the Occidental Mindoro Consolidated Power Corp. (OMCPC), less than half of the province's demand.

OMCPC said it lacks the funds to fully run its three power plants because the National Power Corp. (NPC) has not paid the utility its fuel subsidy.

As the problem worsened, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordered the National Electrification Administration (NEA) to fix the mess. Working under pressure, the NEA had to scramble for stopgap measures. It tried to enter into an emergency power supply agreement with DMCI Power Corp. to bring in modular generators exclusively for public schools and hospitals.

The deal did not push through.

The National Transmission Corp. (TransCo) was tapped to provide an automated system control that will help reduce brownouts not only in Occidental Mindoro but also in Oriental Mindoro and Palawan. The system was supposed to be launched last year. That initiative seems to have stalled.

All this time, the government was assuring the people of Occidental Mindoro that their misery was going to end soon.

Last week, Malacañang announced that the power crisis in the province has been resolved.

The NEA said it has convinced the OMCPC to fire up its power plants at full capacity.

For the first time in months, no blackouts were reported in Occidental Mindoro, the Palace said.

There is no guarantee, however, that the province will not experience another episode of crippling outages in the months to come. But it gives the government's energy experts the breathing room to think up a more viable, long-term plan.

One attractive approach is to link Mindoro island to Luzon's power grid.

Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella said last week, “We plan to hasten” the interconnection, and that it could be realized in 2026.”

But perhaps the future of Mindoro lies in tapping renewable energy as a power source1. And President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. apparently realizes this.

“We will look for renewables,” in particular solar energy and wind power, in resolving Mindoro's energy problem, the President said last Saturday.

The government is also eyeing submarine cables to ensure a stable power supply, the President said.

The Philippines has been trying to attract foreign companies to invest in the country's green energy sector. When the President visited China in January, he secured $13.76 billion in investment commitments for renewables.

Offshore wind power appears to be the most suited for Mindoro, the country's seventh biggest island and the eighth most populous.

A study released by the Department of Energy (DoE) and the World Bank indicated that the Philippines has the potential to install 21 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2040.

Wind energy, along with solar and biomass, account for less than 4 percent of renewables in the country's power generation mix. Altogether, renewables only had a 21-percent share in the mix, which is still dominated by fossil fuels.

The government plans to increase the share of renewable energy to 35 percent by 2030 and to 50 percent by 2040.

A World Bank official said the Philippines' waters “have conditions that are well-suited to offshore wind.”

Setting up a wind power industry will mean that the government must be prepared to face challenges such as cost, transmission, logistics, financing and ownership issues. But more and more countries, particularly island nations like Great Britain, are already investing heavily in it.

Recently, the DoE signed three contracts with a Danish fund manager to build offshore wind farms in the Philippines that could generate 2,000 MW.

Occidental Mindoro could be the template for projects harnessing renewable energy as a power source1 for the country's island provinces.

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