Sanchez seeks solutions to brownouts, water lack
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Congressman-elect Hector Sanchez buckled down to work last week, spearheading informal meetings with officials of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) and the Virac Water District to discuss persistent power interruptions and lack of potable water in the capital town.

With Acting Governor Shirley Abundo and suspended Governor Joseph Cua also in attendance, the incoming solon sought the dialogue with the two firms delivering vital services to the public upon arrival from Manila last Friday morning (May 24, 2019).

During the meeting, FICELCO General Manager Raul Zafe, reporting on the status of power supply and operations in the Catanduanes grid, informed that as of May 23, 2019, the total dependable capacity for the dry season is 18.39 megawatts as against estimated system peal demand of 13.50 MW, for a reserve of 4.889 MW.

He said that while the three mini-hydro power plants at Balongbong, Solong and Hitoma are operating below capacity due to low water levels, the recent addition of six diesel gensets by the Sunwest Water & Electric Co. (SUWECO) under the 2nd Amendment of its Electricity Supply Agreement with FICELCO ensured that there would be enough power during the summer until the rains come.

Zafe disclosed that while in 2018 the cooperative’s Systems Loss reached a maximum of 14.67 percent, or above the standard of 13% set by the National Electrification Administration (NEA), line clearing and other maintenance works has drastically reduced this to just 11.96% during the first quarter of this year.

Financially, FICELCO is compliant with the industry standards, current in its payments to power suppliers and in its loan amortizations with NEA, and with 100% collection efficiency as well as 100% energization of all sitios and barangays.

The GM also bared that after the energization of sitio Campo Ermitaño in Panganiban town last month, the cooperative will implement in June its share under the Department of Energy’s Nationwide Intensification of Household Electrification (NIHE) program. Under this key DOE program, FICELCO will receive around P24 million to finance the power connection of some 4,600 indigent households in Catanduanes.

Regarding the National Power Corporation’s 69-KV Transmission Line Project, he informed the incoming congressman that following the completion of the Codon-Marinawa line, the Marinawa to Kilikilihan line is set to be finished, with the entire line’s energization set by the end of 2021.

Zafe said that NPC President Pio Benavidez Jr. has directed the cooperative to install tie lines to the completed portion of the transmission line next month so that it could be energized.

Gov. Cua, who is serving a one-year suspension, said that their team is only acting on the complaints of the people against poor power and water supply services aired during the campaign. “Grabe na ang problema sa brownout, dapat masolusyunan na,” he noted.

On the other hand, Acting Gov. Shirley Abundo pointed out that it is high time that the people should be made aware of the reason why there are still brownouts when the grid has a reserve energy.

Sanchez, an electrical and mechanical engineer by profession, agreed with their observations regarding the poor reliability of power supply in the island.

He said that it is most important that the right solutions be found and that he just wants to know what problems have been faced by the cooperative in the last few months, such as low voltage in homes that lead to higher power consumption.

“The flexibility of FICELCO is not enough when line faults occur,” Sanchez stated, suggesting that the cooperative craft a distribution plan to isolate areas in case of brownouts, with gensets, fixed or mobile, to provide enough power for these isolated areas.

He also opined that power suppliers may not be telling the truth when their power plant’s protection setting trips, instead pointing to equipment breakdown as the cause.

In reply, GM Zafe said that the low voltage issue is limited to the Caramoran-Pandan area due to the overextended distribution line from Virac, which should have been limited to 40 kilometers from the substation.

The Hitoma mini-hydro power plant can’t supply the two northern towns by itself, he added, as he welcomed the recommendation of the congressman-elect that diesel gensets be based in the area.

In Virac, he added, the low voltage in homes is caused by overloaded transformers.

“I will give FICELCO the funding that it needs to improve power supply,” Sanchez announced to much applause.

The permanent solution – a submarine power cable connecting the Catanduanes grid to the Luzon grid – will follow, he said, but solutions to more basic problems, such as a need for sectionalization of the grid, would have to be undertaken.

“Many investors are wary of coming to the island due to the power supply problem,” he noted. “We have to level up and double power requirements by projecting future capacity at 30 megawatts to attract small industries.”

He proposed that the cooperative relocate cross-country power lines to be along main roads for easy maintenance, synchronize relay systems, and construct a substation along the extended distribution lines.

NEA project supervisor Engr. Danilo Desuyo disclosed that Napocor has three more substations to be constructed along the 69-KV transmission line until 2021.

FICELCO’s P31.4 capital expenditure program approved last year would be used for the procurement of tools and protection equipment, he added.

Regarding the 1st and 2nd Amendments of the ESA with SUWECO, Board President Rodolfo Vargas claimed that both were approved by the board, endorsed by NEA and NPC, and submitted to the Energy Regulatory Commission before June 2015. Thus, he said, it is no longer affected by the recent Supreme Court decision requiring electric cooperatives with supply agreements submitted after said date to conduct a Competitive Selection Process (CSP).

GM Zafe also said that following a NEA audit regarding SUWECO’s undelivered Hitoma-2 and Capipian mini-hydro power plants, he has written the company to provide a status report on the two projects which should have been producing 4.2 megawatts by now.

He informed that SUWECO is reportedly having problems with the environmental approval of its Capipian project as it is within a Strict Protection Zone where no construction is permitted.

A Third-Party Bids and Awards Committee that includes two representatives of member-consumer-owners have already completed the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the procurement of an additional 4.4-MW that would be ready in case Napocor pulls out of the grid.

For its Systems Loss reduction program, the congressman-elect said he would lend three bucket trucks to FICELCO, which along with a similar truck from Gov. Cua, would boost the cooperative’s efforts.

He likewise agreed to provide FICELCO a site for the establishment of its satellite office to store materials in either Caramoran and Pandan,

Sanchez also agreed to support GM Zafe’s proposal that Napocor be convinced to donate its power assets to the provincial government once it leaves the island, including the Balongbong mini-hydro plant that was taken over by the national government.

Frequent consultations between the province’s top leaders should be made by co-op officials so that they can help by seeking out other avenues, he added.

Meeting with VIWAD officials “unproductive”

While something substantial has been achieved regarding power issues, the same could not be said of the congressman-elect’s meeting with officials of the Virac Water District.

According to sources who attended the meeting, the water firm officials led by GM Gabriel Tejerero and board president Arlene Arcilla were not able to present figures regarding water consumption in the capital town, as well as a master plan for its vital service.

Instead, Sanchez asked them to submit their immediate plans to address the shortage of potable water, including the much-needed data.

He urged the board to consider sourcing water from Sto. Domingo river, which could be passed through a filtration system to make it potable, as a short-term measure, and to use solar power for the deep well pumps.

VIWAD is currently pursuing a proposed loan with the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) for the construction of four deep wells, in addition to one being drilled at Bigaa for over P3 million.

Water service has been reduced since January to the dry spell, with much of the service areas receiving only three hours of water daily.

GM Tejerero has asked the provincial government, particularly the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, to reconsider its decision to deny VIWAD’s request to install a deep well at the corner of the capitol compound near the Marem Pension House.

The congressman-elect is also focusing on the construction of water systems for towns and barangays which do not have sufficient water supply.


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