The Proposed Libmanan Power Plant, Bicol’s Power Situation And Some Lessons

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Last September 4, on her visit to Libmanan, Camarines Sur, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced the proposed $28M Libmanan Biomass Power Plant (BPP). The proposed BPP is supposed to produced 10 MW. The government’s line is that it will help improve power supply in Libmanan and in Camarines Sur.

However, my understanding of the power situation in Bicol is that the power produced by the Tiwi and Bacon-Manito (Bac-Man) Geothermal Power Plants are well over the requirement of the entire Bicol peninsula. In fact, there is a proposal that the power to be produced from an incoming phase of the Bac-Man project, the Bacman-Kayabon project be reserved for the Bicol peninsula. It is estimated that its 40MW production should be sufficient to serve the current 30MW need of the Bicol peninsula.

It is not clear, however, how will the Bicol peninsula will be separated from the Luzon electricity distribution grid. The high system loss is the biggest reason for the high electricity rates in the region. This is ironic since the power it consumes come from region itself. And it is doubly ironic since the power is first sent out to Metro Manila (because they say it is too much for Bicol) and it is the return current which Bicol uses, causing low voltage and power fluctuation.

What they are not telling is Mega Manila is supplied ahead of Bicol because it is where the industries are located, it is the national center and it has a higher population base. It also produces half of the country’s GNP as compared to Bicol’s minuscule contribution. Talk about second-class treatment.

But this is just another manifestation of the regalian doctrine at work–that all natural resources belong to the national government and that they will decide as they see fit. It doesn’t matter to them that Bicol shares the cost of bringing the power to Mega Manila by paying the distribution cost the TransCo (National Transmission) charges for the whole Luzon grid including then inherent system losses.

An additional obstacle to the separation from the Luzon grid is that it is no longer solely an intra-government matter. The Bac-Man Geothermal Power Plant is already controlled by the Lopez group. Sell the electric cooperatives to Meralco? Well, there are precedents. Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga, Cavite and portions of Laguna, Batangas and Quezon became service areas of Meralco because of the people’s demand who got fed up with the inefficient service and high charges of their old electric cooperatives.

Will the Libmanan BPP’s power production be separate from the Luzon power grid? The leaders of Bicol and the people should get together and resolve the problems mentioned above. This should not just be left to government functionaries.

Actually the idea of a separate grid (or maybe use the old grid and just pay for the cost of carrying the electricity) is a step in the right direction. If Bicol will study the experience of Iligan City, it might learn a lesson or two. When we arrived in Iligan, we were surprised that the rates there were only half of Manila’s. When we asked why, the answer we got was that there was an agreement that the power the Maria Cristina Hydroelectric Power Plant, which is located in Iligan, will be sold cheaply to the city. We even heard a story that Iligan is not charged the usual distribution costs (since anyway the plant is only a few kilometers from the city).

This might have basis since people of Lanao del Sur and two Muslim towns of Lanao del Norte are also clamoring for preferential treatment like Iligan. They cite that the water Maria Cristina uses comes from their lake which they consider part of their ancestral domain, the Lake Lanao. Further, they point out that most of the generators anyway and the water cataracts are located in their areas. This refused demand has caused several bombings of the towers of the power grid of Mindanao.

With low electricity rates, many industries especially those that are big consumers of electricity came to Iligan. Iligan experienced an industrial boom in the ’50s to the ’70s making it the Highly Industrialized City it is now. Even the famed National Steel Corporation came to Iligan.

This is the lesson that Tiwi, Bacon and Manito missed. But I hope it is not yet too late for Libmanan.

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