Power Struggle



Bicol is unique for its pili, abaca, organically grown coconuts, handwoven hataw fabric, the smallest fish sinarapan, the rich fulvic minerals from Mayon Volcano, and of course, the famous geothermal power sourced from Tiwi, Albay.


Disaster-prone, the region is also aberrant for its day-long outages that last up to one full day, making people wonder whether power interruptions have become intrinsic to our daily work. Power glitch consumes eight hours a day, always with no advanced notice. The difference from the real-life force is that brownouts are a bane, a scourge, and a burden to households. Moreover, there is an irreparable cost to business each time brownouts occur, especially at this critical time with nearly three years of economic catastrophe wrought by the pandemic.


Next to Mimaropa, Bicol has the second-highest number of reported brownouts. To Bicolanos, long used to facing a crisis during typhoons and other natural disasters, brownouts are an unwelcome disturbance. Wasn’t it in 2020 when Bicol went pitch-dark after typhoons Quinta, Ulysses, and Rolly? In many areas, power restoration took more than two months.


Nightmare


We cannot take brownouts lightly. With frequent brownouts, life grinds almost to a halt. At the height of the pandemic, a TBM member in Buhi, Camarines Sur, struggled to keep her young daughter alive on a nebulizer scampering from one house to another using diesel-fueled generators with constant power interruptions. In all hospitals, the Gensets were powered on to keep operations running. But environmental and public health experts warn against using these diesel-driven generators because they can worsen ozone pollution and trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments.


Online learning and zoom meetings turn into nightmares during brownouts, damaging gadgets and other electronic devices and equipment like TV and refrigerators. Constant brownouts cause power surges and create a toxic environment, severely affecting school time and business operations. One of my constant fears with the incessant brownouts is the loss of data in my laptop, which can be extremely costly or even impossible to replace. For MSMEs, even a momentary power cut can severely hamper the optimum performance of workers and other employees. Rotating brownouts in just two days could cause P116 M economic losses, affecting thousands of households.


The Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), enacted in 2001 with the promise of delivering affordable and reliable electricity to the country, has failed. Electric power is no longer government regulated and, for decades, privatized in the hands of a few monopoly firms. Twenty-one years later, electricity has never been as costly as today. The Philippines’ electricity rates are one of the highest in Asia. It’s time to review, if not repeal, this old law to adjust to the evolving energy systems and needs of the times.


Unfortunately, consumers also consider the power cooperatives negligent of safety, with bent electricity poles and hanging wires in disrepair posing risks to commuters, especially students in schools. The leaning electric poles now fully bent backward along the Jimenez street leading to the Mariners by the Sea campus of MPCF in Rawis, Legaspi City in Albay is one classic example of neglect. With serious concerns about brownouts and safety, stress levels rise. As a result, more people are fighting back to find a way out.


In Albay, disgruntled member-consumers of the Albay Electric Cooperative (ALECO) voted to end the 25-year Concession Agreement with the Albay Power and Energy Corporation (APEC), a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation, in a Special General Membership Assembly last week.


Issues of consumer dissatisfaction face the four electric cooperatives in Camarines Sur, Bicol’s biggest province, namely the Camarines Sur Electric Cooperative, Inc. (CASURECO), 1-4. CASURECO I, based in Libmanan, is the first electric cooperative set up in 1972; CASURECO II is in Naga city; CASURECO III is in Iriga city, and CASURECO IV is in Tigaon. Local consumers also now demand better service from the MASELCO and TICAO in Masbate; the SORENTO I and II in Sorsogon, the First Catanduanes (FICELCO) in Catanduanes, and the CANORECO in Camarines Norte.


Alternative: renewable energy


A way to go is shifting to off-grid solar panels. More and more people are turning to the alternative renewable energy source, solar power. Reducing dependency on the national grid is a way to solve constant power loss. Solar power is a power supply from the sun. An off-grid solar photovoltaic (PV) system is unconnected to the utility grid. A battery stores the energy harvested through the solar panels. It can also be used to power lights and appliances.


Homes and establishments can also become solar energy producers and consumers through net-metering solar PV or o-grid net-metering systems.


The love for nature, plants, resiliency, good health, and a safe environment is shared advocacy among the Board members of the Tabang Bikol Movement. The TBM construction from a grant from the Department of Agriculture began with the members spending hours discussing how to make the production facility safe and friendly. A series of meetings and workshops with the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) in Camarines Sur, led by Director Pat Felizmenio and Engr. Buboi Reyes, along with the DA (FO5) led by Engr. Kaye Callado was a fruitful learning exercise in building resilient infrastructures. The regional DA and DoST partner with the TBM in developing the citronella distillation plant at the Berde Asul site behind the Mariners Canaman gym in Baras, Canaman, Camarines Sur.


I promote renewable and cleaner energy. It is part of TBM’s HEAL (Health, Environment, and Alternative Livelihood) program. It’s the way to go in the era of regeneration. The power struggle is on!