Drought in Philippines Forces Blackouts

Low reservoir levels have caused several hydroelectric plants to shut down or cut operations in the Southeast Asian country.

Philippines’ President Gloria Arroyo declared a power crisis in the southern island of Mindanao because hydroelectric plants are providing only half of the electricity demanded in the area, the Manila Times reports.

“Capacities of hydroelectric power plants continue to be limited in Mindanao due to a very low water inflow to their reservoirs brought about by El Niño,” a spokesperson for National Grid Corp, which oversees electrical transmission, told the Manila Standard Today.

Luzon, the country’s largest island, is also starting to be affected by the drought. The Magat hydroelectric plant stopped operations on Thursday because of low reservoir levels, and several other facilities were forced to curtail operations, according to MST.

The capital city of Manila, which is located on Luzon, was subjected to hour-long rolling blackouts Thursday, as were cities in seven neighboring provinces.

To increase generating capacity, Arroyo would need Congress to pass a special resolution that grants her emergency powers through the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, which deregulates electrical supply.

Emergency powers would allow the government to lease large generating units and enter into short-term power supply contracts with two diesel plants, the Manila Times reports.

But some politicians say that government provision of electricity would be a regression.

The government should let private companies provide the power with rate regulation from the Department of Energy, Liberal Party campaign manager Florencio Abad told the Philippine Star. Others critical of the administration say the power outages are the result of Arroyo’s poor planning during her decade-long rule.

“This is criminal negligence,” said Sen. Benigno Aquino III to the Philippine Star. “We know that El Niño was going to visit the country. [The national government] knew that Mindanao was going to have a power supply problem. They should have mapped out a plan earlier on.”

Both the climatic conditions and the criticisms of the government echo the current situation in Venezuela. Reservoirs levels there have fallen to critical levels, causing power rationing and periodic blackouts.

Such risks occur when countries rely heavily on hydroelectric power without adequate backup generating capacity.

Source: Manila Times, Manila Standard Today, Philippine Star

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