Power outages in Western Visayas a strong reminder to take legislative action, seek alternative and sustainable energy sources

January 10, 2024

On January 2, right after the festivities for the new year, the Western Visayas, particularly the islands of Panay and Guimaras and some areas in Negros, suffered a massive power outage. The blackouts started in the afternoon, and by nighttime, the city’s sole power distribution utility, MORE Power and Electric Corporation, was able to restore power supply to 29.21% of consumers, with priority given to establishments such as hospitals. Most residents suffered from the scorching heat and business operations had to temporarily stop. Electricity in the affected areas was just fully restored by January 5, about three days after the blackouts started.

Members of both houses of Congress have expressed dismay and initiated inquiries to identify those who have to accountability and responsibility regarding the incident. Last Saturday, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) stated that the proble may take six to eight weeks.

The sudden massive power outages in Western Visayas is indicative of the current state of the power supply and distribution in the country. For instance, only four out of 13 power plants in the province were operational. This is unacceptable since Iloilo City and Panay Island are the major economic drivers in the Visayas area. According to data from the DOE, 50% of the power plants in the Philippines are at least 50 years old, but until now, the Senate still urges the concerned agencies for concrete short-term and long-term plans regarding power generation, maintenance, and distribution to ensure their efficiency and avoid recurring problems. Senator Villanueva stated that we need to further explore other sources of renewable energy such as wind and solar to meet the renewable power generation mix target of 35% by 2030.

As the investigation remains ongoing to hold the responsible agencies accountable and to establish measures to prevent the same incident from happening again, the power outage incident serves as an eye-opener about the present and future state of our electricity supply. Since the enactment of Republic Act 9513 or the Renewable Energy (RE) Act of 2008, which was supposed to increase the installed generating capacity of renewable energy in the country, the RE share kept on declining. For instance, from a peak of 34% in 2009, it went down to 29% in 2020. The country remains dependent on coal and oil for power generation. Even the power plants in Panay Island, where massive blackouts occurred, are coal-fired.

The power outages in the Western Visayas show that the management of agencies – both state- and private-owned, remains inadequate. It is high time that the DOE, the ERC, the power distribution utilities, and other concerned agencies revisit their plans and current modes and systems for power generation, maintenance, and distribution. The welfare of  communities, residents, health facilities, and businessesare at stake. 

We call on the DOE, the NGCP, the ERC, and MORE Power Electric Co. to immediately respond to the current problems and arrive at the most reasonable solutions. Agencies that are at fault must be held accountable and be penalized. Profit loss and damages to the consumers and businesses must also be recompensed.

With most, if not all, of our activities requiring the use of energy sources, reliable power sources are imperative. The energy crisis in the Panay region is not only a matter of energy security, but also a threat to public welfare. Policies seeking energy security and sustainability without compromising public access to electricity must be put in place. The DOE must seriously pursue the efforts to increase the RE target at 35% by 2030, and up to 50% by 2050. With the declining RE shares in the total power generation mix, these targets may not even be possible if not prioritized immediately. 

Grid modernization must also be enforced to ensure more reliable and efficient delivery of electricity, to prevent frequent and long power outages, and to have quick restoration of services after outages. It can help consumers in managing their energy consumption since their data will be more accessible to them. It can also enhance security, reduce peak loads, and accommodate more renewables with lower operational costs for the utilities.

As an organization that seeks to promote human development through legislation, the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) believes that prompt legislative action can help address the nation’s challenges.  Aside from identifying the cause of the recent power outages in the Western Visayas and oversight of the implementation of existing relevant laws, the situation evidently calls for the consideration of alternative or more efficient power generation sources that can sustain communities across the nation in the long run. #