Monday, April 30, 2012
The fact that electric power is often restored relatively quickly after the outages is causing a degree of bewilderment among customers of the local electric cooperatives here who still shudder at dark memories of the Mindanao power shortages during the previous administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo where Lianga had to really endure up to 8 hours of darkness and no electricity every day and even in the evenings.
On cannot really blame them for the inability to shake off the sneaking suspicion that, in their particular case, the current "power crisis" may be more sham than reality and that powerful economic interests are simply using the threat of such a crisis to muscle their way into the extremely lucrative power generation industry in Mindanao. If there is really a shortage in the supply of electric power in this part of the country then why is the crisis not so apparent as it should be (in Lianga at least)?
To me, it is clear that all the heated arguments about whether or not there is an actual power crisis in Mindanao have, in more ways than one, become largely superfluous if not confusing. The facts are clear. In the past 30 years or so, this island's economy and, therefore, its power needs have been growing faster than anywhere else in the country yet little or nothing has been done by the government during this time to plan and implement programs and projects designed to insure that it continues to get all the affordable electric power it needs to maintain its economic growth and development.
Mindanao even today has the cheapest power rates in the country and all these has to do with the fact that the island has access to hydro-power and geothermal power plants that provide for more than half of its total energy requirements. Yet these all these plants have been in operation for decades already and as local power needs have dramatically increased in recent years, no strategic planning has ever been done to anticipate and provide for the additional energy requirements brought about by population growth and industrialization.
With proper foresight, the government in the past should have been able not only to rehabilitate and retool existing power plants not only to increase their generation capacity but also to put up and put online new power generation plants based on clean and renewable technologies just in time to address whatever shortfalls in electricity needs the future may require. Instead, we are forced nowadays to depend on mobile power barges that devour expensive and dirty fossil fuels for our supposedly excess power needs and forced to pin our hopes for energy sufficiency in the future on environmentally-polluting coal-fired power plants which no self-respecting, technologically advanced, modern society would like to have chugging away in its own backyard.
I welcome the healthy debate on the National Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) which many consider to be at the center of the current Mindanao power problem and all the heated discussion on how government, the private sector and the citizenry here in Mindanao and all over the country can best address quickly and satisfactorily solve what is clearly not only a Mindanao problem only but an emerging national concern in itself. But for God's sake and with all due respect to all concerned, we should have had this debate and discussion years if not preferably at least a decade ago.
As a result, therefore, of inaction, procrastination and sheer pigheaded shortsightedness, we in Mindanao have become unwilling pawns and victims in the on-going battle for control of the local electric power industry whose potential to generate substantial profits and revenues for future investors have corporate powers and private interests practically salivating at the chance to jump in and cash in. Mindanao will need more power than it can presently provide and will have no choice but to get it eventually at a premium.
Whether this power crisis is real or feigned is, in this sense, irrelevant already. In the future, when we turn on the lights in our houses, we will have have to pay through the nose for that privilege. We could have done something about it but we didn't.